The Sky is Not the Limit: How Franklin Chang-Díaz Chased His Dreams to Become an Astronaut

Meet Franklin Chang-Díaz: Astronaut, founder, advocate, and immigrant. He moved to the United States without knowing any English in order to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut, earning him more than 1,600 hours in space and his own company. Learn all about the important things Chang-Díaz has accomplished in his career.


Photo courtesy of NASA.

Early Life and Education

Franklin Chang-Díaz was born in 1950 in Costa Rica. There, he became fascinated with space, setting out to become an astronaut. After graduating from high school in Costa Rica, Chang-Díaz immigrated to the United States, where he had to redo high school due to the language barrier before attending the University of Connecticut for engineering on a full scholarship. He came to the U.S. without knowing any English, learning it by complete immersion in school.


After earning his Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Chang-Díaz earned his PhD in Plasma Physics from MIT.


Astronaut Franklin Chang-Díaz

In 1977, Chang-Díaz was chosen to become an astronaut, going on to participate in seven Space Shuttle missions. Throughout his 25 years at NASA, a constant question he was asked was whether he was an astronaut or a scientist. Chang-Díaz fought to be seen as both- he was one of the first astronauts to fly in space without a military background.


NASA credits him as being “instrumental” in bringing the scientific community closer to the astronaut corps, forming and directing multiple groups throughout his time.


Chang-Díaz logged more than 1,601 hours in space, including 19 hours and 31 minutes in three spacewalks.


Back to Earth

Chang-Díaz retired from space travel in July 2005. From there, he went on to found Ad Astra Rocket Company, dedicated to developing advanced plasma rocket propulsion technology- which he believes with revolutionize the industry to give space missions a reasonable time frame and round-trip capabilities for satellites.


Today, Chang-Díaz has four children and is an active environment advocate. He enjoys hiking, scuba diving, and music, and looks forward to a future where humanity can enjoy those activities outside of Earth.



“I think people—young people—here in Costa Rica, and maybe in other places as well, can relate to my story because I wasn’t privileged. I didn’t have any advantages, other than a wonderful set of parents and a wonderful infrastructure of people who helped. I didn’t come into the world as a rich person. I didn’t have special connections. I wasn’t even born in the right country.

So if I can do it, anybody can. I think that message is sent loud and clear by this story. Opportunities are not given only to a privileged person. Just a regular guy, a regular kid who was able to dream, was able to pursue it.”