Currently serving as the director of the Johnson Space Center, Ellen Ochoa was the first Latina astronaut. Since her first mission in 1993 - when she ventured out on the shuttle Discovery for nine days to study the Earth’s ozone layer - she has logged nearly 1,000 hours in space.
Holding a degree from Stanford in electrical engineering, Ochoa is also the co-inventor on three patents for an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a method for noise removal in images.
While studying for her master’s degree in physics at Stanford University, Sally Ride answered a call in the student newspaper for individuals interested in joining a space program. She joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman to travel in space, and to this day, she remains the youngest American to do so.
Journalists did not exactly deal with Ride’s gender with grace, asking her such foolish questions as "Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?" and "Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?" However, she was determined to rise above their ignorant questions and prove herself in her field.
Ride helped develop the space shuttle’s robot arm and was the only person asked to participate in committees investigating the Challenger and Columbia space disasters. She eventually left NASA in 1987 to work for the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control, becoming a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego two years later and acting as the director of the California Space Institute.
Ride developed several programs to energize elementary and middle school students - particularly younger girls - to learn about science and space. She wrote or co-wrote a total of seven children’s books on the topics, often collaborating with her life partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy. Their relationship was kept a secret until Ride’s death in 2012, though once confirmed by both her sister and publishing company, it made her the first known LGBT astronaut in history.
Later today, a Russian rocket is scheduled to carry a Russian cosmonaut and an American astronaut to the International Space Station, where they will live for a full year, twice as long as people usually stay.
No American has lived in space for longer than 215 days. Only a few people have ever gone on space trips lasting a year or more — the longest was 437 days—and they’re all Russian cosmonauts. The last year-plus stay in space occurred nearly two decades ago.
What’s more, NASA’s upcoming mission offers scientists a unique opportunity to study the effect of spaceflight on the human body. That’s because the astronaut making the trip, Scott Kelly, has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who’s a retired NASA astronaut.