Three of 12 astronauts in NASA’s Class of 2017 are UC alums
For three UC alums, the horizon now stretches into the vastness of space itself: Jessica Watkins (UCLA, Ph.D. ’15), Robb Kulin (UC San Diego, Ph.D. ‘10) and Warren “Woody” Hoburg (UC Berkeley, M.S. ’11, Ph.D.’13) are among the 12 people chosen for NASA’s 2017 astronaut candidate class.
NASA received a record-breaking 18,300 applicants before winnowing the pool down over the course of a two-year-long selection process. In August, Hoburg, Kulin and Watkins will join the other nine astronaut candidates at the Johnson Space Center for two years of specialized training before becoming eligible for space flight.
“Today is simultaneously the culmination and beginning of a dream,” said Watkins upon her selection. Watkins has loved space science since she was 9, and has spent the past two years working at the California Institute of Technology on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover mission, helping to plan its daily missions as it explores the geology of the Gale crater. She studied landslides on Mars and Earth for her Ph.D. research, and was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in Geosciences.
For Kulin, nearly every decision in his career was made with an eye toward going to space, according to his Ph.D. advisor Kenneth Vecchio, a UC San Diego nanoengineering professor. That includes venturing to Antarctica to gather ice samples, laboring as a commercial fisherman, becoming a pilot and working as a senior manager for flight reliability at Elon Musk’s SpaceX.