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Ellen Ochoa On Leading Human Space Exploration
by Ellen Ochoa
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Elllen OchoaAs I prepare to leave NASA after 30 years, having served the past five years as director of Johnson Space Center (JSC), I feel a huge debt of gratitude – to all of my talented NASA colleagues, the Houston community and also to the American people, who support the most amazing agency in the world.

The value it brings to our country is such that it continues to be critical that national goals and guidance be developed to shape our future and our impact. All of us on the NASA team have had the privilege to serve the American public by fostering new discoveries and expanding human knowledge, leading a global enterprise, strengthening the nation’s security and industrial base, spurring economic development, addressing societal challenges, and serving as a source of inspiration and pride. That last one is the hardest to measure but so clearly paramount. What could be more important in this world than bringing hope, pride or resolve to someone else’s life? 

I was one of those people who was inspired by what NASA had accomplished and couldn’t imagine any endeavor that was more worthy of my effort and passion. Unlikely as it may have seemed for a woman whose grandparents on one side were born in Mexico in the 1870s, I was selected by NASA to be an astronaut after earning three degrees, supported by fellowships and government research grants. I was fortunate to have a mother who believed in the power of education to change and enhance lives, and to be the beneficiary of many people who came before me. They opened up the astronaut career path, as well as many others, to women and minorities – to anyone who studied math and science and was willing to work hard.

With the advent of the Space Shuttle, low-Earth orbit was opened up to a myriad of scientific and technological investigations. It also provided 30 years of advancement in learning how to live and work in space, allowing hundreds of people to experience that unique environment. My first two missions gave me the opportunity to collect data on our atmosphere, helping scientists understand changes due both to the solar cycle and human activity. With scientists clamoring for more time in space for their experiments, NASA embarked on the journey that produced the International Space Station (ISS), an unprecedented global engineering collaboration among five space agencies representing 15 countries that has now included participation from almost 100 countries. On my second two shuttle missions, our crews assisted in assembling and outfitting the ISS. To date, we’ve had crews continuously inhabit ISS for more than 17 years, with more than 225 people from 18 countries having visited or lived there. 

JSC is the hub of ISS, integrating all of the activities and all of the partners – including other NASA centers, international partners, and companies now providing cargo delivery services and soon to deliver our crew. We plan, train (both crew and flight control teams) and execute our mission 24/7, and apply our engineering, safety, human health and performance, and flight crew expertise to maximize the productivity and safety of our operations in space. We operate ISS both as an exploration testbed for NASA’s future deep space exploration as well as a national laboratory, working with our non-profit partner, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, to deliver and carry out experiments and technology demonstrations for many different organizations. And increasingly, we provide opportunities for many companies interested in developing a low-Earth orbit space economy. 

JSC also is developing the Orion spacecraft to take crew beyond low-Earth orbit, having completed the first test flight in 2014. We work closely with Marshall Space Flight Center and Kennedy Space Center, which are developing the heavy lift launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the launch facilities, respectively, to provide NASA and the country with the capabilities needed to explore deep space, starting with the lunar vicinity. NASA’s exploration campaign will be, like ISS, a collaboration among many partners, and JSC is poised to take on the exciting challenge of integrating all participants to achieve multi-faceted goals. 

We are proud to call Houston home – and lucky to be in a thriving city with industries full of engineers and scientists with whom we share insights and challenges, great universities with whom we collaborate, and leaders who understand the strength of a diverse workforce and embrace science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Together, in just the last few years, we have showcased Houston for the Super Bowl, endured and supported each other during Hurricane Harvey, celebrated our World Champion Astros – and continued to inspire the next generation of explorers. 

 

Ellen Ochoa, a veteran astronaut, is the 11th director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She is JSC's first Hispanic director and its second female director. Ochoa will retire May 25 after a 30-year career with the space agency.





Remembering Jim Guidry GRCC Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership


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