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These 2 astronauts forever blazed trails for Hispanic people in space

Franklin Chang-Diaz, Ellen Ochoa started a long line of Hispanic astronauts

Ellen Ochoa (left) and Franklin Chang-Diaz.
Ellen Ochoa (left) and Franklin Chang-Diaz. (Getty Images)

Followers of space travel were rightfully captivated last week when a crew of four civilians were sent into space for three days aboard Inspiration4, which was the world’s first all-civilian mission into orbit.

But with the mission taking place in the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month, it also brought to mind two trailblazing astronauts.

The first is Franklin Chang-Diaz, who in 1980 became the first Hispanic astronaut elected by NASA.

Born in Costa Rica and raised, Chang-Diaz moved to Connecticut and aspired to be an astronaut, studying mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut and eventually becoming a U.S. citizen.

In 1986, he made the first of his seven spaceflights aboard the shuttle Columbia and eventually logged more than 1,500 hours in space, 19 of which were on spacewalks, according to NASA.

The other Hispanic astronaut who blazed a trail was Ellen Ochoa, who in 1993 became the first Hispanic woman to go into space when she was a crew member on the shuttle Discovery, a nine-day mission.

Ochoa was flown into space on three other missions and later went on to become the first Hispanic director of the Johnson Space Center.

Since those two, NASA has seen other astronauts with Hispanic heritage go into space:

  • Joseph Acaba: Selected in 2004, Acaba has spent 306 days in space and flew aboard Discovery to the International Space Station in 2009.
  • Serena Aunon-Chancellor: She was selected in 2009 and was on the International Space Station as part of Expedition 56/57.
  • Fernando Caldeiro: Selected in 1996, Caldeiro conducted atmospheric research experiments, among other duties. He passed away in 2009 due to brain cancer.
  • Sidney Gutierrez: Gutierrez was selected in 1984 and went on space flights in 1991 and 1994.
  • Jose Hernandez: Selected in 2004, Hernandez served as a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle’s 37th mission to space in 2009.
  • Christopher Loria: He was selected in 1996 and was assigned to be the pilot for a Space Shuttle mission, but an injury forced him to request a reassignment.
  • Michael Lopez-Alegria: In 1992, Lopez-Alegria was selected and went on to be a part of four space flights. He logged more than 257 days in space and performed 10 spacewalks.
  • Carlos Noriega: Selected in 1994, Noriega flew on Space Shuttle missions in 1997 and 2000.
  • John Olivas: In 1998, Olivas was selected and went on to perform the first ever on-orbit repair of a shuttle during a spacewalk.
  • George Zamka: Selected in 1998, Zamka served as the pilot on a 2007 mission to the International Space Station.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.