Franklin Diaz is a Costa Rican-American engineer, physicist and former NASA astronaut. He was born Franklin RamÃ³n Chang DÃaz on April 5, 1950 in San JosÃ©, Costa Rica. His father is of Chinese descent and his mother is of Spanish and Costa Rican descent. He studied at La Salle School, and then he moved to the United States to finish high school. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Connecticut in 1973, and later went on to earn a Doctorate of Science degree in applied plasma physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977. Diaz worked in the field of fusion technology and plasma-based rocket propulsion for his graduate research.
In 1980, Diaz was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA and flew his first mission six years later. While going through astronaut training he was also involved in flight software checkout at the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and participated in the early Space Station design studies. From October 1984 to August 1985 he was leader of the astronaut support team at the Kennedy Space Center. His duties included astronaut support during the processing of the various vehicles and payloads, as well as flight crew support during the launch countdown.
Diaz first flew aboard Shuttle Columbia on mission STS 61-C. The flight launched on January 12, 1986 and was a 6-day flight which deployed the SATCOM KU satellite, conducted experiments in astrophysics, and operated the materials processing laboratory MSL-2. After 96 orbits of the Earth, Columbia landed successfully at Edwards Air Force Base on January 18, 1986. Three years later, Diaz flew aboard his second mission, STS-34. The crew launched on October 18, 1989 aboard Shuttle Atlantis, and during the mission they successfully deployed the Galileo spacecraft, operated the Shuttle Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet Instrument to map atmospheric ozone, and performed many secondary experiments involving radiation measurements, polymer morphology, lightning research, microgravity effects on plants, and a student experiment on ice crystal growth in space. STS-34 landed on October 23 after 119 hours and 41 minutes in space. Diaz, after another three years, traveled to space once again aboard Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-46. The crew launched into space on July 31, 1992, and during the mission, they deployed the European Retrievable Carrier satellite and performed the first Tethered Satellite System test flight. After 8 days and 126 orbits of the Earth, the mission landed back on Earth on August 8, 1992.
STS-60 was the fourth flight for Diaz. It launched aboard Shuttle Discovery on February 3, 1994, and was the first flight of the Wake Shield Facility, the second flight of the Space Habitation Module, and the first American flight to carry a Russian Cosmonaut as a crew member. During the mission, the crew performed many biological and life science experiments. Two years after returning to Earth, Diaz was launched into space yet again, this time on the STS-75 mission on February 22, 1996. The mission re-launched the Tethered Satellite System, which subsequently demonstrated its ability to produce electricity, and flew the United States Microgravity Payload-3, which the crew worked continuously on by performing combustion experiments and research. On March 9, 1994 the mission ended with a successful landing. Diaz next flew to space on what would be the final Shuttle-Mir docking mission and end the highly successful joint U.S./Russian Phase I Program. The STS-91 mission launched aboard Shuttle Discovery on June 2, 1998. During the mission, the crew executed logistics, supplied hardware to the Mir, and conducted the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer experiment. After 236 hours in space, the mission ended on June 12, 1998. Diaz then made his seventh flight to space on mission STS-111 aboard Shuttle Endeavour. The crew was launched on June 5, 2002 and was successful in delivering a new ISS resident crew as well as a Canadian-built mobile base for the orbiting outpost’s robotic arm. They also repaired the station’s robot arm. Diaz completed three spacewalks in order to assist with the installation of the Canadian Mobile Base System. The mission brought back the Expedition-Four crew from the space station, and they all landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base, California on June 19, 2002.
Diaz retired from NASA in 2005. After his retirement, Diaz developed the Ad Astra Rocket Company, which is committed to the development of highly developed plasma rocket propulsion technology. Years of research and development have formed the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, an electrical momentum device for use in space. Diaz is currently President and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company and holds the record for the most flights to space.