Ellen Ochoa on the next chapter of spaceflight
Ellen Ochoa, astronaut and director of the Johnson Space Center (JSC), visited Philadelphia last week to receive an honorary degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and talked to AL DÍA News about her vision for spaceflight and some of the initiatives she is implementing.
In 1993, Ochoa became the first Latina woman to go to space when she served on a mission aboard the Discovery. In 2007, she was appointed deputy director of JSC, and in 2013, she made history again by becoming the first Latina and second female director of the space center.
Now Ochoa is ready to write the next chapter of spaceflight with the development of a new spacecraft that will go farther than we’ve ever gone before, with Mars as the next frontier.
Here’s what she had to say:
About the work of JSC at the International Space Station and the development of the Orion Spacecraft:
“We have people in space. We are trying to keep them safe and productive at the International Space Station. One of the things we are using the station for is to understand more about how we’ll eventually go much further. We have experiments on board and we also study human health and performance. You probably know Scott Kelly is on board for a one-year mission. We are also developing a new spacecraft, called the Orion, to go farther than we’ve ever gone before. Orion had its first test flight last December, and we are looking to do another one in 2018. We work with companies like Boeing and SpaceX to develop commercial capability, to take crews to and from the International Space Station. And then we do a lot of technology development, advanced flight support, space suits, humanoid robotics… “
About the next frontier in spaceflight:
“We want to get to the point where we can send humans to Mars. In the meantime we are trying to look at what those missions should be to help us build up and demonstrate the capabilities that we need. In the 2020s I expect to see missions that will take astronauts somewhere in the lunar vicinity — It might be to a distant lunar orbit that we are looking at right now for some specific activities. Hopefully, we’ll have a series of missions throughout the 2020s to get us ready for Mars.”
About the initiative JSC 2.0:
“It’s not so much about what we do but how we do it. We are trying to be smarter about how we get our work done so that we can get further down that path toward exploration with the resources that we currently have. Rethinking processes, focusing on innovation, thinking more about public-private partnerships and how we can engage people outside our borders in the work that we do. Or where we can co-develop technologies that might be of interest to an industry outside aerospace as well as of interest to NASA. There’s a lot of different facets but it’s about advancing human spaceflight by being lean, agile and adaptive to change.”
About commercial spaceflight:
“Commercial companies will be taking our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In some cases the companies come up to us separately and want to essentially hire some of our folks. For example, Boeing is using our operations folks to do all of their operations products, flight planning, flight rules, training, and actual operations during missions. Depending on the company they may be coming to us for certain kinds of expertise. In the end, we are going to need to certify those companies before we’ll put our astronauts on board.”
About space debris:
“We certainly work to understand the concern that it poses for our folks, so we are always looking at what we believe the risk is. We have a group at JSC that sort of heads up understanding the environment from micrometeorites and orbital debris. We definitely have to design our spacecrafts with that in mind. We also have the ability to burn debris (dragging debris to a safe altitude for it to burn up in the atmosphere) or do a maneuver with the space station when there is a piece big enough in the vicinity. It’s something you have to worry about, and for a long spaceflight in orbit and people in the International Space Station, it is probably the single biggest factor that could affect their safety for being in space for a long time.”
About representation of Latinos at JSC and NASA:
“At JSC close to 11 percent of our folks are Hispanic. It’s more than NASA, where maybe 6 to 7 percent are Hispanic. Of those at JSC, about two-thirds are in science and technical fields, and about one-third are in other areas like finances, procurement, human resources… that support the technical work and programs.”
About her experience as a Latina astronaut:
“I’ve had wonderful opportunities at NASA. I really feel like I’ve been encouraged all the way along. I think there was a time before I joined, when women and minorities first joined, where there was a little bit of ‘how is this going to work?’ But by the time I was in office, people just really wanted to see if you were going to be good team member or not, if you know your stuff, and if you are doing everything to get the job done. I had great opportunities within the astronaut office – I flew four times – and I’ve had really good opportunities since, in the part of the organization that manages the astronaut office and aircraft, and then as deputy center director and director.”