NASA Chooses Its Next Generation of Moon Mission Astronauts — More Than Half Are Veterans

December 31, 2020Nolan Peterson
Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain, NASA

Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain, NASA Detachment, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, receives the oath of office during an underwater promotion ceremony in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory Sept. 27. (NASA Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory photo)

After a half-century hiatus, NASA plans to resume manned spaceflights to the moon by 2024. As that deadline nears, and the development of the hardware to make it happen steadily proceeds, the storied American space agency recently unveiled the crop of astronauts selected for the upcoming moonshots — and more than half of them have US military backgrounds.

Among the 18 astronauts chosen for NASA’s planned Artemis moon missions, 10 are either military veterans or currently serve in America’s armed forces. Drawn from the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, those 10 future moonwalkers include a Navy SEAL, fighter pilots, test pilots, helicopter pilots, and a submarine warfare officer.

Reading their biographies is a surefire way to diminish anyone’s overinflated ego. In addition to the stellar military service records of these men and women, most also hold advanced degrees. Among the Artemis astronauts, for example, is Navy SEAL Jonny Kim, who, among his myriad other accomplishments, is also a doctor of medicine from Harvard Medical School.

It might be a cliché expression, but there’s no better way to describe this select group of intrepid Americans than as “the best of the best.”

“I give you the heroes who will carry us to the Moon and beyond — the Artemis Generation,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a Dec. 9 ceremony to introduce the Artemis astronauts. “It is amazing to think that the next man and first woman on the Moon are among the names that we just read. The Artemis Team astronauts are the future of American space exploration — and that future is bright.”

During the 1960s space race to land a human on the moon before the Soviet Union, NASA drew almost exclusively from the ranks of US military pilots to fill the ranks of its astronaut corps. The original Mercury 7 — America’s first seven astronauts — was composed exclusively of military test pilots with no less than 1,500 hours of flight time. They also had to be under 40 years old, in perfect health, and college graduates. (The bachelor’s degree requirement is what allegedly excluded legendary Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager from the astronaut program.)

Those narrow requirements were incrementally loosened over the years. The Gemini program featured civilian test pilots. But it wasn’t until the final Apollo moon landing mission, Apollo 17, that geologist Harrison Schmitt became the first NASA astronaut to fly in space who had not previously served as a military pilot. (However, even though he was a civilian, Schmitt still completed Air Force undergraduate pilot training as part of his astronaut training curriculum.)

NASA’s next round of moon missions under the Artemis program will include “the first woman and next man to walk on the lunar surface,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a Dec. 9 release.

By 2024 NASA aims to land two astronauts near the lunar South Pole and establish a sustainable human presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade — with an eye toward sending astronauts onward to Mars.

“Walking on the lunar surface would be a dream come true for any one of us, and any part we can play in making that happen is an honor,” Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester said in a NASA release. “I am proud of this particular group of men and women and know that any of them would do an outstanding job representing NASA and the United States on a future Artemis mission.”

The NASA Orion spacecraft, which will carry American astronauts back to the moon. Photo by European Space Agency via Twitter.

According to information on the NASA website, the 10 Artemis moon mission astronauts with military backgrounds include:

“Kayla Barron was chosen as an astronaut in 2017. Originally from Richland, Washington, she earned a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. As a submarine warfare officer, Barron was a member of the first class of women commissioned into the submarine community. She is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy.

“Raja Chari joined the astronaut corps in 2017. At the time of his selection, Chari was a Colonel select in the U.S. Air Force, serving as the Commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the Director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force. He has accumulated more than 2,000 hours of flight time in the F-35, F-15, F-16, and F-18 including F-15E combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and deployments in support of the Korean peninsula.

“Matthew Dominick was chosen as an astronaut in 2017. Born in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, he holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in systems engineering. He also graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and was a developmental test pilot specializing in aircraft carrier launches and landings before coming to NASA.

“Victor Glover was selected as an astronaut in 2013. The Pomona, California, native and U.S. Navy Commander earned a bachelor’s degree in general engineering and master’s degrees in flight test engineering, systems engineering, and military operational art and science. He piloted the Crew-1 Dragon Resilience and is currently serving as an Expedition 64 flight engineer aboard the International Space Station.

“Jonny Kim came to NASA as part of the 2017 astronaut class. The Los Angeles, California, native enlisted in the U.S. Navy following high school. He became a Navy SEAL before earning his commission and going back to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, followed by a doctor of medicine.

“Nicole A. Mann joined the astronaut corps in 2013 and is currently training as pilot for the Crew Flight Test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Born in Petaluma, California, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.  The U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel was an F/A-18 fighter pilot and graduate from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.

“Anne McClain, from Spokane, Washington, joined the astronaut corps in 2013. She has spent 204 days in space and conducted two spacewalks. The U.S. Army lieutenant colonel is a Senior Army Aviator and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School as a helicopter test pilot. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical/aeronautical engineering, and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and international relations.

“Jasmin Moghbeli joined the astronaut corps in 2017. A major in the U.S. Marine Corps, she was raised in Baldwin, New York. She received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering. She also graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and tested H-1 helicopters before she came to NASA.

“Frank Rubio was selected as part of the 2017 astronaut class. The U.S. Army lieutenant colonel considers Miami, Florida, his hometown. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a doctor of medicine. He served as both a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and a flight surgeon in the Army before coming to NASA.

“Scott Tingle came to NASA to join the 2009 astronaut class. The U.S. Navy captain has spent 168 days in space and performed one spacewalk. He considers Randolph, Massachusetts, his hometown and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering. He also graduated from the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School.”

Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine and the author of Why Soldiers Miss War. A former US Air Force special operations pilot and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nolan is now a conflict journalist and author whose adventures have taken him to all seven continents. In addition to his memoirs, Nolan has published two fiction collections. He lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with his wife, Lilya.
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