Two Helo Pilots Among NASA Astronaut Candidates

By James T. McKenna | June 12, 2017

Photo courtesy of NASA

Photo courtesy of NASA

NASA’s newest class of astronaut candidates includes a U.S. Marine helicopter test pilot and a U.S. Army battalion surgeon for airborne Special Forces who formerly flew Sikorsky Black Hawks.

The U.S. aeronautics and space agency said a record number of people — more than 18,300 — applied for the open astronaut candidate slots that Marine Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli, Army Maj. Francisco “Frank” Rubio and 10 other men and women have been selected to fill. NASA said this is the largest class of “ascans” (as agency folks call the trainees) since the year 2000.


Moghbeli, Rubio and their 10 classmates are to report to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in August for two years of training, the completion of which will clear them for technical assignments with the Astronaut Office and a place on the roster of those eligible for spaceflight slots.

Moghbeli is a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School with more than 1,600 hours of flight time and 150 combat missions.

The Baldwin, New York, native received a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering with information technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School.

At her selection, she had been testing Bell Helicopter H-1s and serving as the quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1) at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.

 Rubio graduated from the U.S. Military Academy with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and went on to earn a doctorate of medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Before he went to medical school, Rubio served as a Sikorsky UH-60 pilot and flew more than 1,100 hours, including more than 600 hours of combat and “imminent danger” time during deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

A board-certified family physician and flight surgeon, he was serving at his selection, he was serving as a battalion surgeon for the 3rd Battalion of the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

The astronaut candidates selected with Moghbeli and Rubio are U.S. Navy Lt. Kayla Barron, Penn State University geobiologist Zena Cardman, U.S. Air Force Raja Chari, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Dominick, NASA research pilot Bob Hines, assistant MIT aeronautics and astronautics professor Warren Hoburg, Navy Lt. Jonny Kim, SpaceX engineer Robb Kulin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution research engineer Loral O'Hara and California Institute of Technology postdoctoral fellow Jessica Watkins.

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