Before NASA selected Ellen to become an astronaut, Ellen proved herself on Earth by getting a doctorate degree in electrical engineering and co-inventing three patents for optical engineering systems.
Born in southern California in 1958, Ellen was interested in space exploration as a girl. NASA hired its first women astronauts when she was studying physics in college in the 1970s. Ellen saw the astronaut program as a way of combining her interest in research and engineering with space exploration. She became an astronaut in 1991.
In April, 1993, Ellen became the first Hispanic-American woman in space. As a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, mission STS-56, she deployed and captured a research satellite used for the study of the sun. During the nine-day mission, she also took part in studies of Earths atmosphere and the effect of the sun on Earths climate and environment. In November 1994, Ellen was also payload commander aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis for mission STS-66.
Ellen spent a number of years working on the development of the International Space Station. In May and June 1999, Ellen flew aboard the Discovery, mission STS-96, which became the first Space Shuttle to actually dock with the Space Station. On board the Space Shuttle were supplies to be used by the first crews living and working on the Space Station. Working 200 miles above the Earth, Ellen operated a robot arm that helped transfer four tons of clothing, computers, and medical equipment from one ship to the other.