Monday, June 17, 2013

'Twas the day after my wedding and my astronaut hopes were high: 2013 NASA Astronaut Selection Personal Story

Last summer I wrote a short blog post about making it to the Highly Qualified round of the NASA Astronaut Selection. Because the process is essentially a job interview process, my family advisers recommended that I shouldn't post any news. I'm releasing that blog today, because +NASA just announced the names of the 8 new, very talented, NASA Astronaut Candidates, and I wanted to share my personal microslice of this selection process. I'm proud that the chosen include an International Space University alumna Jessica Meir (MSS '00) and +MIT AeroAstro alumnus Tyler "Nick" Hague (SM '00). Please read more about the Elite 8 from +NASA's press release and video message from NASA Administer Charlie Bolden:

It was a very long process, with NASA announcing the application process in November 2011 and due in January 2012, with not much news until August 2012 for the Highly Qualified. Overall the process was longer than our wedding engagement (only because we had to wait a year for Yellowstone reservations). In a side note for this selection process, during my eye test in my medical I was switching between contacts, no contacts, then my old prescription glasses (like 5+ years old), so I think I botched my eye test. Regardless of this minor detail, I do plan to get corrective laser surgery for my eyes, which I have been waiting years for, saving up and also making sure that the procedure established a solid and safe track record.

My "Two for One" certificate/coupon from
XCOR Aerospace at NSRC 2013.
Could this be how I enter space for the first time?
I will continue to work hard to help open the space frontier and push commercial space exploration. Hopefully next selection will be my "third times a charm," as I will hit the age range of the current selected group (the new males are 37, 37, 37 and 39). Maybe the +Canadian Space Agency will also be ready for another selection and I can apply for a second time (last selection I made the top 2% of 5,352 applicants and had a video interview). The future is bright for commercial spaceflight so I'm also doing my best to form strategic plans on how I may be a flight participant or researcher. Each year I attend the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference I feel more confident about those possibilities and NASA's Flight Opportunities Program will be opening up to allow researchers on-board spacecraft with their payloads. I do have my "Two for One" certificate from XCOR Aerospace that may come in handy.

Valentina Tereshkova - 1st Woman in Space!
Virgin Galactic also announced their 600th future astronaut today, Marsha Waters, which is on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova (Валенти́на Терешко́ва - 16 June 1963), and the day before the 30th anniversary of America's first woman Sally Ride (18 June 1983). Celebrating milestones and anniversaries in space are important for us to think about where we've been, where we are now, and where we are going. Recognizing this importance is why I've been with +Yuri's Night for over 11 years now (I still need to write a 2013 summary of highlights!). I'm sticking with YN for at least another solar orbit as we continue to expand our reach and diversity of space celebrations. Soon we will be releasing our call for 2013-2014 Global Executive Team members.

Now the main feature! Notice that I was optimistic about the selection numbers being for 15 people, but only 8 were chosen. I'm not sure if sequestration had a toll on NASA's 21st Astronaut Group. I've also heard rumors of selections happening more often with smaller groups. More humans to space! After all, we are all explorers of the stars hurdling through space on this planet we call Spaceship Earth.

Original Blog Title: 404 Error: Astronaut Not Found... Yet! I'm still in the NASA Astronaut selection!

Image Source: Agens

Don't let the title and funny error art fool you, this is very exciting news and definitely not an error. On August 6th, the day after our wedding, I received an email from one of my references saying "Double congratulations" in the subject line. With barely any reception in Yellowstone National Park I didn't notice my phone had updated my messages until later on. The message simply said congratulations on the wedding and "you've made the highly qualified list in the astronaut selection process". What a great space wedding present! That and Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory) safely landing on Mars as a serendipitous after-party to our wedding reception (we picked the date before NASA had a landing date).

I decided not to post the news right away as I wanted to complete my medical screening (a NASA custom form filled out by a certified FAA Aviation Medical Examiner similar to the Class II or III FAA medical exam) and I wanted to digest the news with family and close friends first. Now to address the "404 Error" title. Historically there are approximately 400 (let's just call it "404") Highly Qualified applicants left at this stage. I'm not exactly sure how many applicants have been asked at this point, but the original pool included 6,372 individuals (USA Today Article), the second highest number of applications ever received by NASA (check out the press release). So a summary by the numbers (I love numbers):

  • 6,372 Total Applicants
  • ~4,200 Qualified applicants through first cut (Ref: Brian Shiro's blog)
  • ~404 Highly Qualified applicants
  • ~100 applicants asked to interview at NASA JSC
  • 9-15 (rumors are that it will be closer to 15) Applicants invited to become Astronaut Candidates (AsCans)

My fingers are crossed that I will make the interview round. Statistically I have a 1 in 4 shot of an interview. But the 404 are amazing individuals spanning many disciplines and talents, so we will just have to see what unfolds.

An interesting fact to keep in mind is that this particular astronaut class may be flying on a variety of spacecraft with all the new commercial activity and CCiCap being awarded to fund these new vehicles. The destinations also haven't been decided outside of the International Space Station, but they all sound amazing to me. The only thing cooler than going to space more than once, is blasting off in different rockets and spaceships! Oh my!


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