NASA Latina Astronauts: Meet Serena M. Auñón And Ellen Ochoa, 'Reinas De STEM'

Ellen Ochoa NASA 1
Ellen Ochoa float weightless on her first space mission in 1991 NASA

In the history of human space flight there have been 15 Latino astronauts, including two Latinas. Dr. Ellen Ochoa was the first Latina to bust out of atmosphere, in 1993. (The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova, who flew on one Soviet mission in 1963). Today there’s one active Latina astronaut, space M.D. (see below) Serena M. Auñón. Their experiences show that there’s a place in space for up-and-coming Latina scientists, future reinas  of Science, Technology and Math (STEM).

In the history of human space flight there have been 15 Latino astronauts, including two women. Dr. Ellen Ochoa was the first Latina to bust out of atmosphere, in 1993. (The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova, who flew on one Soviet mission in 1963). Today there’s one active Latina astronaut, space M.D. (see below) Serena M. Auñón. Their experiences show that there’s a place in space for up-and-coming Latina scientists, future reinas  of Science, Technology and Math (STEM).

RTXJ0AO May 26, 1999: Space shuttle Discovery astronaut Ellen Ochoa is shown in a NASA file photo. The shuttle is scheduled to lift off on May 27 on a mission to carry supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. Reuters / NASA

On her first flight into space, Dr. Ochoa used the Discover shuttle’s robotic arm to deploy and recapture the Spartan satellite, a reusable astronomical observatory that she used to study the Sun. She explains the research in the video below. Ochoa participated in 3 more space missions, including the first-ever docking of Discovery on the International Space Station.

Ochoa no longer flies missions. She has moved up to a top post at NASA, where she is currently the Director of the Johnson Space Center. Last summer, a new middle school in East LA  was named after her. At the reception, she acknowledged her role as a pioneer and inspiration for Latinas in STEM.

“I hope that my background and me being able to talk about the importance of education to my career will really give them something to think about,” Ochoa said. “An incentive to set goals for themselves.”

  • Hobbies: a classically trained flutist and enjoys volleyball and bike riding
  • Education: master’s degree in science and a doctoral degree in electrical engineering, both from Stanford University. B.S. from U.C. San Diego
  • Born in Los Angeles in 1958

In this 1991 video Ochoa explains the purpose of studying the Sun from space.

 

Dr. Serena Maria Auñón

Auñón’s family is no stranger to leaving their own figurative “world.” Her father left fled Cuba in 1960. Now, Serena is preparing to leave her world, literally. Dr. Auñón wanted to be an astronaut ever since she was saw a shuttle launch when she was in grade school. That’s because like the future astronautical surgeon Auñón, space shuttles are BAMF.

“Let's face it, the Shuttle is a wonderfully complex and beautiful vehicle. It's hard not to be inspired by its sheer power,” said Aunñón in a NASA interview.

Auñón started her career as a medical doctor, not an engineer. One of the few people on the planet who is board certified in Internal and Aerospace Medicine, she’s trained to handle extreme medical situations on the International Space Station.

Serena M Dr. Serena Maria Auñón prepares for submarine training. NASA

Though she hasn’t been to space yet, Auñón has participated in another form of extra-terra-strial exploration: extreme conditions in the world’s only underwater laboratory. She even piloted one underwater mission, NEEMO-16, which researched possible scenarios for landing humans on asteroids.

  • Hobbies: martial arts, jetskiing, ball sports
  • Education: M.D. and M.P.H. (UT Austin), B.S. in Electrical Engineering (George Washington University)
  • Born in Indiana in 1976

Want to be an astronaut? Auñón explains how to make it happen, in this talk at GWU.

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