As a physicist, engineer, entrepreneur, and astronaut, Franklin Chang-Díaz has made significant contributions to space exploration. Born in San José, Costa Rica, he developed a passion for science and space at an early age. In 1967, Chang-Díaz graduated from Colegio De La Salle in San José and moved to the United States to continue his education and achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut. He graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1973, and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a Ph.D. in applied plasma physics in 1977. In 1980, NASA selected Chang-Díaz as an astronaut candidate, making him the first Latin American immigrant to become a NASA astronaut.
While in college, Chang-Díaz developed a passion for fusion technology. At MIT, he contributed to the United States’ controlled fusion program and the design and operation of fusion reactors. After he graduated from MIT, he joined the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory as a technical staff member. Chang-Díaz later invented a novel method to guide and target fuel pellets in an inertial fusion reactor chamber. He also worked on a new concept of rocket propulsion based on magnetically confined high-temperature plasmas and led the plasma propulsion program at the MIT Plasma Fusion Center as a visiting scientist from October 1983 to December 1993, aiming to develop this technology for future human missions to Mars.
As an astronaut, Chang-Díaz flew on seven Space Shuttle missions between 1986 and 2002 and is tied with astronaut Jerry Ross for the most spaceflights of any astronaut. His two Space Shuttle Discovery missions, STS-60 and STS-91, were the first and last missions of the Shuttle-Mir program. The program was a joint project between NASA and the Russian Space Agency to conduct scientific research and test new technologies in orbit. As a veteran astronaut, Chang-Díaz spent a significant amount of time in space, logging more than 1,600 hours, and performed three extravehicular activities while working on the International Space Station during his last mission.
After ending his NASA career in 2005, Chang-Díaz founded the Ad Astra Rocket Company, which creates innovative propulsion systems for space travel. He also serves on the board of Cummins, a global company that provides power solutions. Chang-Díaz continues to serve as a proud ambassador of his Costa Rican heritage and culture and his story inspires many around the world to pursue their passion of space exploration no matter their background. As the first Latin American immigrant to become a NASA astronaut, he has inspired millions to pursue careers in STEM and the longevity of his astronaut career allowed him to play a significant role in shaping the successes of the Space Shuttle Program. Chang-Díaz continues to seek the goal of making human and robotic space travel practical and economical—envisioning a future where “we will be able to open the entire solar system to human exploration and settlement.”