Astronaut and SDSU alum Ellen Ochoa returns to alma mater, smiling at young space enthusiast
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Astronaut, SDSU Alum Ellen Ochoa Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Arvin Valmores

Ochoa received the honor for her contributions to space exploration and inspiring future generations.

Astronaut and SDSU alum Ellen Ochoa returns to alma mater, smiling at young space enthusiast

Ellen Ochoa (right) meets with a young aspiring scientist during San Diego State's dedication of the Ellen Ochoa Pavilion at SDSU. ​(Photo ​courtesy Rachel Crawford/SDSU)


Ellen Ochoa, a San Diego State alumna and the first Latina to fly to space, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Joe Biden at a White House ceremony M​ay 3 for her contributions to space exploration, and for serving as a source of inspiration for future generations of scientists.

At the ceremony, Biden commended Ochoa for “ushering a ​whole new age of space exploration—and proving what it means for every generation to dream, to reach for the stars, and to get there."

Ochoa was among 19 individuals​ to receive the medal in 2024, including former House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and award-winning actress Michelle Yeoh​. The recipients were awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor for ​"contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant social, public or private endeavors," according to the press release.

Having first earned her bachelor’s in physics from San Diego State in 1980, Ochoa then acquired her master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

In April 1993, Ochoa became the first Latina to travel to space when she went on a 10-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery. She has since traveled to space three more times, has logged nearly 1,000 hours in orbit and became the second female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2013.

​In 2019, Ochoa returned to her alma mater to receive an honorary Doctorate of Science from SDSU. The university also held a special ceremony in 2023 honoring her continued work to advance space exploration and STEM education by renaming the West Commons after her. The Ellen Ochoa Pavilion serves as a reminder for the campus community to pursue their interests and passions undeterred by challenges and obstacles.

Watch the full ceremony via MSNBC.


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