Franklin Chang Díaz Biography

Franklin Chang-Diaz, a physicist and former NASA astronaut, has had a remarkable journey from his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to becoming one of the most-flown astronauts in the program. Despite facing initial obstacles as a non-U.S. citizen, he overcame them and pursued his education in mechanical engineering and plasma physics. His passion for space exploration led him to apply to NASA, where he was accepted and went on to complete seven missions to space. After retiring from NASA, he established his own company, focusing on engineering space shuttles for faster and more efficient travel. Additionally, he is an active advocate for climate change awareness.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Franklin Ramón Chang-Díaz
  • Age: 73 Years, 73 Year Old Males
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Peggy Marguerite Doncaster
    • Father: Ramón Angel Chang Morales
    • Mother: María Eugenia Díaz Romeros
    • Siblings: Sonia Rosa Chang-Díaz
    • Children: Jean Elizabeth Chang-Díaz, Lidia Aurora Chang-Díaz, Miranda Karina Chang-Díaz, Sonia Chang-Díaz
  • Born Country: Costa Rica
  • Ancestry: Costa Rican American
  • Notable Alumni: Hartford Public High School, University Of Connecticut
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Ad Astra Rocket Company
  • Education: Massachusetts Institute Of Technology, University Of Connecticut, Hartford Public High School

Childhood & Early Life

Franklin Ramón Chang-Diaz was born on April 5, 1950 in San José, Costa Rica, and is one of six children. His father was Chinese and his mother Costa Rican. His interest in space began at an early age and he believed strongly that the only way he would realize that dream is by moving to the United States. After finishing high school in the late 1960s, with his family’s support, he left Costa Rica for the United States to pursue that dream.

He moved to Hartford, Connecticut, with his uncle. He did not know English so he enrolled in high school there to transition into the U.S. education system. He experienced some challenges because he was not a U.S. citizen. He had been offered a scholarship to the University of Connecticut but was ineligible to receive it due to his citizenship status. A petition was raised and he was eventually allowed to receive one year of the scholarship and the in-state tuition rate.

In 1969, he attended the University of Connecticut and earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. He went on to acquire postgraduate degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and acquired his doctorate in plasma physics.


When NASA’s space program picked back up in 1977, they made a request for astronaut candidates. Chang-Diaz applied and was selected in 1980. At the time, he was studying nuclear fusion. Again, he faced adversity because he was a scientist. At that point, military personnel typically went on space missions and the scientists engineered the rockets. However, six years after he was selected, he flew aboard the Columbia in mission STS-61-C in 1986. This was the first of seven missions he would fly.

He was originally charted to fly in the ill-fated Challenger mission in 1986. The disaster was a sobering experience for him and his colleagues. His second mission in 1992 took on a new seriousness in the light of the tragedy. In 1993, he became the director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory at the John Space Center. In total, he completed seven space missions. The other five missions were STS-60 (1994), STS-75 (1996), STS-91 (1998), and STS-111 (2002). On his 2002 mission on the ship Endeavor, he worked on the International Space Station and participated in three spacewalks during that assignment.

He retired from NASA in 2005 and set up the Ad Astra Rocket Company which is currently working on the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) which he believes will revolutionize space travel by allowing further excursions in less time and round trip travel. He also became a part of Rice University’s faculty, serving as Adjunct Professor in Physics and Astronomy.

Major Works

He wrote ‘Dream’s Journey’ which is an autobiographical account of the transitional time after he moved to the United States from Costa Rica. ‘The First Years’ is the first of three books in an autobiographical trilogy he is writing. This first part explores his years as a child in Costa Rica.

Awards & Achievements

He was awarded the Medal of Liberty from President Ronald Reagan in 1986 for his distinguished service to NASA as a naturalized citizen of the United States. He has received several awards from the Costa Rican government honoring his work. NASA awarded him the NASA Exceptional Service Medals in 1988, 1990 and 1993. He also received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal twice in 1995 and 1997. He became a member of the NASA Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2012 for his exemplary contributions to space research. He received the The Explorers Club’s 2014 Buzz Aldrin Quadrennial Space Award for his work on the VASMIR.

Personal Life & Legacy

Chang-Diaz is married to Peggy Marguerite Doncaster and has four children. He was the first Costa Rican Hispanic astronaut to go into space. He is an advocate for environmental protection and had a part in the movie ‘Odyssey 2050’ which encouraged action on climate change.


He is often referred to as Spanish American, but Chang-Diaz emphasizes that is an incomplete picture of his heritage because his father was Chinese. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Costa Rica. He was originally scheduled to be a part of the Challenger mission in 1986.

Leave a Comment