Video shows a calm Ellen Ochoa floating, arms outstretched, in a space shuttle—a personal miracle never fathomed when she watched humans’ first landing on the moon in July 1969 as an 11-year-old.

Back then, she never imagined becoming an astronaut. It was strictly a male domain. But oh, what her time travels have yielded in the half-century since.

c She was a crew member on four space shuttle missions, spending nearly 1,000 hours in space from 1993 to 2002. She was director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center until her retirement in 2018. She received NASA’s highest award—the Distinguished Service Medal—as well as the Presidential Distinguished Rank of the Senior Executive Service, and honorary doctorates from six universities. Six schools have been named after her.

But the owner of a Phi Beta Kappa Bachelor of Science degree in physics, Ph.D. at Stanford University, mother of two sons, and wife of intellectual property attorney Coe Miles is also proud of her three patents.

The patents are a result of her career at NASA, where she once led a research group that worked on optical systems for automated space exploration. The patents are for an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a method for noise removal in images.

“Getting a patent wasn’t something I’d ever thought about when I first went to graduate school or even … most of the way through my research,” she told the USPTO in an interview a few years ago. “But we got to a point where I think my main thesis advisor Professor (Joseph W.) Goodman suggested that we talk to our patent and technology office at Stanford. … It really kind of came up as part of the process.”

She is proof that more people have patent potential than they realize—that there are “so many different ways that invention and innovation are used in our society today, but it is a way that people can contribute from all walks of life.”

These days, Ochoa embraces her role as a mentor to students. Inspired by her own role model, Sally Ride, she has made more than 300 presentations encouraging females and minorities to pursue technical fields.

“Leadership provides an ability to influence the things that you care most about,” she says.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the USPTO trading cards. Requests for the cards can be sent to [email protected]. You can also visit them at