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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

Space: exploration, propulsion systems, NASA shuttle program

Energy: renewable energy, electric transportation, building sustainable economies

Innovation & Advance Technology

Cultural Diversity & Inspirational Immigrations Story

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