Space Scientist Inspires Possibilities for Others: Candy Torres

On her desk, Candy Torres has a small piggy bank, shaped like an observatory, with the label “ob-save-atory” across the front. It’s a poignant reminder of the multifaceted accomplishments and contributions of this high-tech Puerto Rican, who aptly calls herself the “Technorican.” Her career has been a patchwork ob-save-atory of dreams and goals. She accomplished her dream of a space industry career and uses her own piggy bank of experience to teach others to unlock their fullest potential. Torres—a highly accomplished engineer at NASA, an artist and a fencer—believes that she can do anything she sets her mind to do. She learned to fly an airplane at age 15 and eventually earned a pilot’s license. Her parents moved from Puerto Rico to New York in the late 1920s. The future space engineer was born in Manhattan and lived in a Bronx housing project until she was six, when her family moved to New Jersey. She grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. “It was early in the Space Age, and no one in my family or neighbors knew anything about jobs in science. It was not yet time for an American woman to be an astronaut, anyway,” she said, recalling how people urged her to lower her expectations to protect herself from disappointment. Her parents encouraged Torres’ determination and learning, but her inspiration came unexpectedly from the television and Leonardo da Vinci. By watching TV science fiction on TV, the youngster saw worlds of possibilities outside her surroundings. She also drew inspiration from Da Vinci’s works as an engineer, scientist, artist, and thinker, which showed her to “not be afraid to try something that hadn’t been done before.” “It was because of Da Vinci that I became a maker,” she said. After graduating in 1976 from Douglass College—Rutgers University, Torres was hired immediately at nearby Princeton University’s Astrophysics Department. She was a data analyst and computer support for astrophysicists working on the first successful space observatory. They worked in a building that looked to her strikingly like the ob-save-atory. In 1984, she joined the NASA-Johnson Space Center team that would computerize space operations in the Mission Control Center during the Space Shuttle Program. Torres later worked creating to create a long-term space habitation database and as a flight controller for the International Space Station crew. More recently, Torres has been writing an autobiography and developing her a public speaking business around her experiences in aviation, astrophysics, space exploration, 3D printing, and other technologies. She volunteers at her local library’s Innovation Lab, speaks to community groups, and teaches others to shine brightly. Like HIP, she encourages others to dream big by modeling leadership and promoting community building, while asking them to share their stories. She knows that everything in the universe is made from star material.
I want people to see that they are stars and can contribute to their community in their own ways. What’s the point of my life if all the stuff I’ve learned and done can’t be shared with others?