One of the incredibly inspiring women I met in Houston at the IWF World Leadership Conference was astronaut Dr Ellen Ochoa. Listening to the first Hispanic woman to enter space and the now Director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centre in Houston left me in total awe of her achievements. On the way to her huge success which I found even more inspiring was the fact that she had to break so many barriers along the way.
Breaking down gender and racial barriers
Given that the current President of the United States wants to build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out, you would have to presume as the daughter of a Mexican immigrant Ellen has faced a certain level of adversity that others would have not encounter. Add to the equation her university professors told her engineering and physics would not be a career option for as a woman, it’s fair to say Ellen has really stuck it to the world (quite literally).
Despite the extra hurdles Ellen has faced she remained resilient in her goal to be an astronaut.With a background in physics and engineering Ellen tried three times before she was accepted into the NASA Training Programme. She has since logged nearly 1000 hours across four space missions including time on the International Space Station.
Unique perspective on the world
Sitting on top of Earth, Ellen has a unique appreciation and perspective of the world. Given the space shuttle orbits the Earth every 90minutes its mind-blowing to think of the view. As on top of the world Ellen is she came across extremely grounded.
One of her astronaut colleagues was present in the audience and during audience question time she approached the microphone. She acknowledged Ellen in the pioneering work she done particularly with the invention of “robotic arm” now used on the International Space Station.
Ellen’s colleague also shared a personal anecdote of when she (the colleague) was on maternity leave. A new feature to the space station was about to be unveiled which was extremely exciting for all those involved. She rang Ellen as a new Mum of a six week old baby excited about returning to work. She said to Ellen I really want to get back into work and get on board helping the next mission. Ellen said back to her “There will be many more space missions but your baby will only be six weeks old once”. Sound and sincere advice which really resonated with Me. As a young Mum Ellen’s words to her colleague were a gift to her and her baby. As they were to me.
Ellen is clearly on a mission to figure out how astronauts can spend more time safely in space, reduce waste associated with missions, figure out if there is any other life out there, land on Mars and in short conquer the world. She does so in her own way. Not all “RA RA” but incredibly empowering in such a caring, humble and thoughtful way.
As Ellen sat down on the stage my friend and fellow EY WABN Mentee, Nikki, tapped me on the shoulder saying she had just had breakfast with her. She said she was amazing to talk to and really down to Earth. After hearing her impressive and inspiring introduction to her major achievements in life to date Nikki said “she never told me she was an astronaut when I asked what she does!”. Such is the humility of the lady that I work at a Space Centre was enough.
The world should be proud of Dr Ellen Ochoa. Mother of two boys, wife and a woman who is not prepared to just ‘be’. She wants to make a difference. She wants to contribute in STEM and break new ground. And she wants to inspire others to break new ground as well, whatever field in may be in.
I feel lucky to have been in the audience to hear her speak and later meet her. Thank you Ellen Ochoa for your time and insights which had lasting effect on me and the other 1000 peoplein the room.