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To the Space Station, the Moon, and Mars

by Meredith Loughran
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On Friday, January 10, 2020, NASA welcomed 11 new astronauts who are the first to graduate since the Artemis program was announced; and these new plebes are now eligible for space flight assignments.

For those not familiar with the Artemis program, the goal is to land the first woman and another man on the moon surface by 2024; the beginning of further space exploration with commercial and international partners by 2028. There are plans for lunar missions every year. This annual moon missions is the first step in preparation for the giant leap to Mars some time in the 2030’s.

NASA Astronaut Graduates

There was a record pool of 18,000 applicants from which these 11 new NASA astronauts  candidates were selected. With this new addition to the corps, NASA now has 48 active astronauts and there are plans to open the application process for astronaut candidates once again this spring. 

At the first public graduation ceremony in Houston, TX, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated: “These individuals represent the best of America, and what an incredible time for them to join our astronaut corps.” He went further to say that “2020 will mark the return of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and will be an important year of progress for our Artemis program and missions to the Moon and beyond.”

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Other notable speakers at the graduation were Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. 

Sen. John Cornyn said, “For generations, the United States has been the world leader in space exploration, and Johnson Space Center will always be both the heart and home of human spaceflight activity.” 

“I congratulate these exceptional men and women on being the first graduating class of the Artemis program.” Sen. Ted Cruz stated. “They are the pioneers of the final frontier whose work will help fortify America’s leadership in space for generations to come. I am excited for the opportunities ahead of them, including landing the first woman ever on the surface of the Moon, and having the first boots to step on Mars.”

The Newest Astronauts

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Date: 08-07-2019. The members of the 2017 NASA Astronaut Class are (from left): Josh Kutryk, Bob Hines, Warren Hoburg, Frank Rubio, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Jasmin Moghbeli, Jessica Watkins, Jenny Sidey, Jonny Kim, Kayla Barron, Zena Cardman, and Loral O’ Hara. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford

NASA astronaut candidates trained alongside two Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronauts over the last two years. Listed below are all graduates of the 2020 class.  

NASA’s newest astronauts are (in alphabetical order):
From NASA press release

  • Kayla Barron, a U.S. Navy lieutenant, originally is from Richland, Washington. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering. A Gates Cambridge Scholar, Barron earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. As a submarine warfare officer, Barron served aboard the USS Maine (SSBN 741), completing three strategic deterrent patrols. She came to NASA from the U.S. Naval Academy, where she was serving as the flag aide to the superintendent.
  • Zena Cardman calls Williamsburg, Virginia, home. She completed a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in marine sciences at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Cardman was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, working at The Pennsylvania State University. Her research focused on microorganisms in subsurface environments, ranging from caves to deep sea sediments. Her field experience includes multiple Antarctic expeditions, work aboard research vessels as both a scientist and crew member, and NASA analog missions in British Columbia, Idaho and Hawaii.
  • Raja Chari, a U.S. Air Force colonel, hails from Cedar Falls, Iowa. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with bachelor’s degrees in astronautical engineering and engineering science. He continued on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland. Chari served as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California.
  • Matthew Dominick, a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, was born and grew up in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of San Diego and a master’s degree in systems engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He also graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. Dominick served on the USS Ronald Reagan as department head for Strike Fighter Squadron 115.
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Date: 02-21-2018. 2017 NASA astronaut candidates (from left): Bob Hines, Matthew Dominick, Jasmin Moghbeli, and Raja Chari take hold to their surroundings during their reduced gravity flight aboard Canadian Space Agency’s Dassault Falcon 20 Jet. Photo Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

  • Bob Hines, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, attended high school in Mountaintop, Pennsylvania, but considers Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, his hometown. He has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Boston University and a master’s degree in flight test engineering from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB. Hines served as a developmental test pilot on all models of the F-15 while earning a master’s in aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama. He has deployed in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Prior to being selected as an astronaut, he was a Federal Aviation Administration flight test pilot and a NASA research pilot at Johnson.
  • Warren Hoburg originally is from Pittsburgh. He earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT, and a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a commercial pilot, and spent several seasons serving on the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit and Yosemite Search and Rescue. Hoburg came to NASA from MIT, where he led a research group as an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics.
  • Dr. Jonny Kim, a U.S. Navy lieutenant, was born and grew up in Los Angeles. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy, then trained and operated as a Navy SEAL, completing more than 100 combat operations and earning a Silver Star and Bronze Star with Combat V. Afterward, he went on to complete a degree in mathematics at the University of San Diego and a doctorate of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Kim was a resident physician in emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
  • Jasmin Moghbeli, a U.S. Marine Corps major, considers Baldwin, New York, her hometown. She earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering with information technology at MIT and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. She also is a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. Moghbeli came to NASA from Yuma, Arizona, where she tested H-1 helicopters and served as the quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1.
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Date: 03-30-2018. 2017 NASA astronaut candidate Warren Hoburg practices procedures alongside trainers during T-38 flight simulator training in Houston. Photo Credit: NASA/James Blair

  • Loral O’Hara was born in Houston. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Purdue University. Prior to joining NASA, O’Hara was a Research Engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where she worked on the engineering, test, and operations of deep-ocean research submersibles and robots.
  • Dr. Francisco “Frank” Rubio, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, originally is from Miami. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and a doctorate of medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Rubio has accumulated more than 1,100 hours as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, including 600 hours of combat and imminent danger time. He was serving as a surgeon for the 3rd Battalion of the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colorado, before coming to NASA.
  • Jessica Watkins hails from Lafayette, Colorado. She graduated from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, with a bachelor’s degree in geological and environmental sciences, then went on to earn a doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Watkins has worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology, where she collaborated on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.
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Date: 05-22-2019. Canadian Space Agency astronaut candidate Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons in a spacesuit prior to underwater training at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston. Photo Credit: NASA/David DeHoyos

CSA’s newest astronauts are:

  • Joshua Kutryk, a Royal Canadian Air Force lieutenant colonel, is from Beauvallon, Alberta. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, as well as master’s degrees in space studies, flight test engineering, and defense studies. Prior to joining CSA, Kutryk worked as an experimental test pilot and a fighter pilot in Cold Lake, Alberta, where he led the unit responsible for the operational flight-testing of fighter aircraft in Canada.
  • Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons hails from Calgary, Alberta. She holds an honors bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from McGill University in Montreal and a doctorate in engineering from the University of Cambridge. While at McGill, she conducted research on flame propagation in microgravity, in collaboration with CSA and the National Research Council Flight Research Laboratory. Prior to joining CSA, Sidey-Gibbons worked as an assistant professor in combustion in the Department of Engineering at Cambridge.

Astronaut Candidate Training

The 11 astronauts had to complete over two years of basic training. They were awarded a silver pin, which has been a NASA tradition since 1959, when the Mercury 7 were selected. Astronauts who complete their first space flight then receive a gold pin.  

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Date: 09-18-2019. 2017 NASA astronaut candidates take a break with their field instructors during geology training in Arizona. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford

Astronaut candidates must go through robust training that encompasses a wide variety of simulation for situations which they will encounter aboard the International Space Station, during space walks, and eventually for exploring the Moon and Mars. Consider that these next generation astronauts will spend more time in space, whether in transit, on the moon, or the journey to and exploration of Mars, than any other human in history.

Their job is dangerous in that they are leading us into the unknown to launch sustainable lunar exploration and build a platform from which we will continue our journey deeper into space. Anyone familiar with beta testing knows that anything can happen when a project goes live and the training wheels come off.  

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Date: 07-18-2018. 2017 NASA astronaut candidate Jessica Watkins prepares to be submerged in the water for underwater spacewalk training at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston. Photo Credit: NASA/Norah Moran

In November 2020, the ISS will celebrate 20 years of consecutive human occupation, which gives us a lot of history and data, which is a lot more than our Apollo and Gemini astronauts had. 

Training includes space walking, robotics, ISS Station systems, T-38 jet proficiency, and working in teams. They go through underwater training to simulate zero-gravity, but they also need hands on experience with geological surveys, survival skills, and how to handle emergency situations. One interesting requirement is learning the Russian language. 

These astronauts will eventually develop spacecraft and become support teams for those who are already in space. They join approximately 500 other people who have had the honor of venturing beyond our atmosphere.  

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Date: 05-30-2018. 2017 NASA astronaut candidates Jasmin Moghbeli and Frank Rubio discuss their next plan of action while fellow astronaut candidates and their instructor study their topographical maps during wilderness survival training at the U.S. Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape School in Brunswick, Maine. Photo Credit: NASA/Josh Valcarcel

To the moon and beyond!

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Featured photo date: 01-10-2020. The 2017 Class of Astronauts poses for a portrait with Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. In the front row (from left) are, NASA astronauts Jonny Kim, Jessica Watkins, Kayla Barron, Jasmin Moghbeli, Loral O’Hara, Zena Cardman and Raja Chari. In the back row (from left) are, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronauts Joshua Kutryk and Jennifer Sidey-Gibbon, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and NASA astronauts Matthew Dominick, Bob Hines and Warren Hoburg.

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