In celebration of the upcoming Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re celebrating famous firsts in Latino history. Today, we’re celebrating the first Latino astronauts.
The first Latino astronaut was named Franklin Chang-Diaz, and he went up into space for the first time in January, 1986, aboard the Columbia mission. Chang-Dìaz moved to the United States when he was in high school, and got a doctorate in applied plasma physics from MIT in 1977. He was the first Costa Rican astronaut, and, as of 2004, he was one of only two astronauts to have served on seven space missions, the other being Jerry Ross. Chang-Dìaz is also the director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where he has been developing a plasma rocket.
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Ellen Ochoa was the world’s first Latina astronaut, but she didn’t go into space until 1991. A mission specialist and flight engineer, she has since logged more than 900 hours in space on four flights, the last in 2002. Dr. Ochoa’s many awards include NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal (1997) and Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995). Besides being an astronaut, researcher, and engineer, Ochoa is a classical flutist.