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Dr. Franklin Chang Díaz    

Former NASA Astronaut, CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company, Inventor, Space & Energy Entrepreneur

Dr. Franklin Chang Díaz became the first Latin American NASA astronaut in 1980 and ties the world record for most spaceflights. Over his 25-year career at NASA he flew 7 missions and logged over 1600 hours in space, 19 of which were on three spacewalks. Between his first flight in 1986 and his last in 2002, he supported some of the agency’s major milestones and accomplishments, including launching the Galileo probe to Jupiter (the first and only nuclear-powered device to fly on the space shuttle), the first mission of the Shuttle - MIR Program, which ultimately led to the International Space Station, a system which he subsequently helped build.

Chang Díaz is a four-time recipient of NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, the agency’s highest honor. In 1986 President Reagan awarded him the Medal of Liberty during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. This honor was bestowed upon a select group of naturalized citizens who had made major contributions to U.S. society, including Bob Hope, Albert Sabin, Henry Kissinger, Itzhak Perlman, Elie Wiesel and I.M. Pei. Chang Díaz was inducted in the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2012.

Chang Díaz was born into a family of humble means in San José, Costa Rica in 1950 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1968, after high school, to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut. In 1973, he received a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Connecticut and, in 1977, a PhD in Plasma Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he designed and integrated control systems for fusion reactor concepts and experimental devices in both inertial and magnetic confinement fusion.

It was at MIT that he conceived the VASIMR® (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket) engine. He continued his research on the VASIMR® engine while at NASA as Director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory. Upon his retirement from the agency, he founded Ad Astra Rocket Company to continue the development of the VASIMR® technology under the private sector, taking the engine from Technology Readiness Level 2 (TRL 2) to TRL 5. In 2021, the VASIMR® rocket engine broke a world record firing, in thermal steady-state for 88 continuous hours at 80kW, completing the company’s NextSTEP NASA contract. The company is currently advancing the technology to TRL-6 and a space flight demonstration to commercialize the engine for in-space logistics and transportation applications.

Ad Astra also has a wholly owned subsidiary in Liberia, Costa Rica, that has pioneered a 100% carbon-free green hydrogen ecosystem project and is dedicated to the implementation of green hydrogen infrastructure in the region and internationally.

Authoring three books about his life and his work on the VASIMR® engine, Chang Díaz served as Director on several boards, including Cummins Inc. (CMI, NYSE) a publicly traded Fortune -100 company. He was a Commissioner on President Clinton’s Presidential Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, and currently serves on the board of EARTH University and leads Strategy for the 21st Century, a Costa Rican NGO implementing “The 50-year Plan” to turn Costa Rica into a developed nation by mid-century.

His humble beginnings, vast life experiences, and deep desire to create and use advanced technology for the betterment of humanity make him a truly inspirational speaker with a unique ability to connect to a large range of audiences.

Speech Topics


The future of space exploration, Building the “space railroad,” Advanced propulsion systems; Enabling fast human missions to Mars and beyond, NASA’s shuttle program and International Collaboration:

  • Much like the steam locomotives revolutionized travel in the U.S., advanced space propulsion systems to support the space supply-chain are needed to grow a sustainable space economy. As space is opening commercially and globally, projected to become a $1 Trillion industry, high-power electric propulsion will be necessary to sustain demand for affordable logistics and to develop a robust and reliable supply chain in-space.
  • The challenges and opportunities of deep space travel to Mars and Beyond - As NASA has assembled it's Moon-to-Mars Architecture program and the U.S. is eager to go back to the Moon and go further, we start to think about what will be necessary for us to develop as a nation to be at the forefront of this exciting new endeavor. Going to Mars is very different than going to the Moon, meaning how we get there will need to be different. Learn from former astronaut and scientist about the challenges and opportunities of what a fast mission to Mars could look like and how disruptive emerging technology can revolutionize the way we travel in space.
  • NASA’s Shuttle Program - Dr. Chang Díaz was fortunate enough to experience a 25-year career as a NASA Astronaut that encompassed a transformation in human space flight, from the beginning of the Shuttle Program and its evolution and integration with the Russian MIR Program and the construction of the International Space Station. Flying 7 space shuttle missions, he participated in some of NASA’s most important space achievements, such as the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the internationalization of space with the Shuttle-MIR Program and the Construction of the International Space Station. Learn from an insider what it was like to learn from the tragedies of Challenger and Columbia and to personally observe, over nearly two decades of space flight, the environmental changes taking place on our home planet.

Energy: renewable energy, electric transportation, building sustainable economies

As climate change and global warming are harder and harder to ignore, Dr. Chang Díaz walks us through some of the solutions his company and many others are working on to ensure a safer and cleaner future and avert environmental catastrophe. “Space is our future, but to explore it, we need a healthy society and a healthy home planet” "seeing Earth from space, changes your perspective, it fills you with an intense responsibility and stewardship to try and protect this beautiful planet we call home." - Dr. Chang Díaz.

Innovative Technology & Motivational

It is important for us to not be afraid to fail. If we only ever do what we are comfortable with, what we know works, we would never have achieved the complex technological modern society that we live in now. Learn from Dr. Chang Díaz about the failures that have shaped his success.

Cultural Diversity & Inspirational Immigrations Story

From humble beginnings, growing up in San José Costa Rica, to becoming the first Latino NASA Astronaut. A truly remarkable story of persistence and determination; follow Dr. Chang Díaz as he recounts emigrating to the U.S. alone, as an 18-year old in the late 60s (at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War), speaking no English, and with $50 to his name to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut.

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