Visitors to La Casa Cultural Wednesday saw two versions of Ellen Ochoa. One was standing before them in slacks and a shirt while the other, on video, was floating at her computer in outer space.
The first and only Latina female to mission into space, Ochoa, spoke about her experiences as an astronaut and the path she took to get there at La Casa Cultural Wednesday. About 30 students attended the lecture, which consisted of an introduction by Latino and Native American Cultural Centers Director Rosalinda Garcia, a speech by Ochoa, a video of her most recent space mission, and a question and answer session at the end.
Though she received degrees in physics and electrical engineering, Ochoa said she did not begin to consider a career as an astronaut until graduate school, only a few years after the first female traveled to space.
“Once I got the chance to meet astronauts and talk to them about their day-to-day jobs, I realized the determination and enthusiasm they all had for what they do, and that was most inspiring to me,” she said.
In 1990, Ochoa became one of 23 astronauts accepted by NASA, and she spent her first three years in training before taking her first of four space flights. Some of her training included land and water survival techniques, an introduction to weightlessness, and how to make a tent out of your parachute.
“Some of the things we learned seemed a bit unconventional for someone with an engineering degree,” she said.
After explaining the parts and functions of the International Space Station, Ochoa showed a 20-minute video of her 2002 mission to the station. The video was narrated by each of the seven astronauts on the mission and included footage of their daily lives in space, as well as views of Earth from the shuttle.
The question and answer session lasted longer than her speech itself, as enthusiastic listeners asked both technical and personal questions about the logistics and emotions involved in her missions to space.
“Going into space is like entering a whole other universe where it’s just you and your crew,” Ochoa said. “The view is spectacular and the chance to be weightless is something you can’t really experience here on Earth. But I also love coming home because it’s what’s familiar and it’s always great to see my family again.”
In terms of the risk factor, Ochoa said she believes each person has to decide whether it’s worth it or not. Obviously, she said, those who choose to go to space think it is.
Although this was her first time at Yale, Ochoa has been invited to speak at high schools, colleges and graduate schools across the country, a part of her career that she said she finds very rewarding.
Audience members called Ochoa’s talk inspirational.
“I have always wanted to meet Dr. Ochoa because she is a role model in the female Latina community and a lot of high school girls look up to her,” Angela Trevino ’07 said. “I am so excited that I have been given this opportunity.”
Mario Conde ’06, who helps organize and coordinate events for La Casa Cultural, said he was pleased with the turnout and the enthusiasm of the audience.
“A lot of people here, like myself, have aspirations in science or math, so it was a great investment for those of us who got to see it,” he said. “It completely blows me away that we were able to have such an interesting speaker in such an intimate setting.”