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Costa Rican astronaut becomes first Hispanic member of U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame

May 6, 2012

Costa Rican astronaut Franklin Chang was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon. Chang, 62, is the first Hispanic astronaut to enter the hall of fame.

“To be recognized by those who you admire is even more powerful than just to be recognized at all,” Chang said, at his induction ceremony.

The Costa Rican-born astronaut began training at NASA in 1980, and partook in his first space flight in 1986. He would finish his career with seven space flights, tied for the most ever.

Astronaut George Nelson introduced Chang at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Nelson told the audience about how the Costa Rican came to the U.S. without knowing how to speak English. Chang later earned a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a plasma physicist before joining NASA and being launched into space.

Nelson said Chang “seemed to be the most comfortable astronaut, seemed to fit up there.” Chang spent more than 1,600 hours in space.

In 2005, Chang left NASA to start his own business, Ad Astra Rocket. The technology company is working to create a plasma engine, which could revolutionize space travel and make it easier to travel to far off places like Mars.

During his induction speech, Chang thanked in Spanish his mother, who was in attendance, and his wife, Peggy, among others. He showed his appreciation for Costa Rica and the United States for supporting his dreams.

“I am the product of two cultures,” Chang said.

The 11th class of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame also included Kevin Chilton, the military’s highest-ranking astronaut, and Charles Precourt, former chief of the NASA astronaut corps. Chang, Chilton and Precourt all logged hours on the Russian Mir space station.

The hall of fame counts 82 astronauts among its inductees including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Alan Shepard.

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