Space, the “final frontier,” according to Star Trek. Another popular astronaut (albeit an animated one), Buzz Light Year declared “to infinity and beyond.” Light years away, space will actually be quite close on Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Kansas City.

Photo from Unsplash

By Peg Cameron Gill

Pioneering astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa will discuss her experiences in space and the future of human spaceflight April 6 at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City. As the former director of the Johnson Space Center, Dr. Ochoa – the first Latina to go into space and the second woman to hold the director position at the space center – will describe what it’s like to visit space during a free presentation: “Breaking Barriers: An Evening with Astronaut Ellen Ochoa.” 

 Dr. Ochoa will appear in person at the Library, which will also live stream her lecture for those who wish to watch online. Her lecture provides a rare opportunity for the public to hear from this trailblazing engineer, inventor, astronaut and author. 

“When I grew up, little girls didn’t dream of becoming astronauts, because women weren’t allowed to be astronauts,” Dr. Ochoa says. “I drew inspiration from the first six women selected for the astronaut program in 1978 and hope I can be the same sort of role model for future generations.” 

 Dr. Ochoa will share  memories from her four NASA missions, which started with the 1993 Space Shuttle Discovery, as well as her 1,000 hours in orbit and her role in the first docking to the International Space Station. She’ll also speak about the importance of future space exploration – including NASA’s planned Artemis missions that will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon. 

 These milestones are especially important to Dr. Ochoa, who recently wrote an English-Spanish children’s book, “Dr. Ochoa’s Stellar World: We Are All Scientists.” The bilingual book is the first in a series Dr. Ochoa plans to introduce kids to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) concepts and inspire scientific curiosity. 

“Dr. Ochoa is a true pioneer and has led an impressive life of service to the benefit of us all, but especially women and underrepresented students,” says Eric Ward, vice president for public programs at the Linda Hall Library. “It’s not often you get to hear first-hand what space is like and why it’s important that we continue to explore our solar system. Attendees will walk away with a greater appreciation for and understanding of space travel, and the science that surrounds us every day.” 

Dr. Ochoa earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from San Diego State University, and a master’s degree and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University.  

She worked at NASA for 30 years, starting in 1988 as a research engineer. After serving as the 11th director of the Johnson Space Center from 2013 to 2018, she retired from federal service. 

Among her other accomplishments, Dr. Ochoa is a co-inventor of patented methodologies, including optical systems that detect imperfections in a repeating pattern and recognize objects. 

 Dr. Ochoa’s lecture is free and open to the public, though pre-registering is required and seating is limited. You may attend in person on Thursday, April 6, from 6:30-7:30 pm. CDT at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, by registering here. Parking is free in Library parking lots and along the west side of Holmes Street between 51st and 52nd streets. If you’d prefer to participate virtually, register here to watch the live stream. 

It’d be a shame to let this incredible opportunity take off without you.

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