June 7, 2017 – A test pilot from Wheat Ridge and a scientist from Lafayette are among the newest class of astronaut candidates announced by NASA today.
Matthew Dominick was born and raised in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, and graduated from D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School in Golden, Colorado. He then earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of San Diego with minors in Physics and Mathematics. Dominick was selected to attend the Naval Postgraduate School/U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Co-Operative Program, where he earned a Master of Science in Systems Engineering from the Naval Post Graduate School and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.
At the time of his selection as an Astronaut Candidate in June 2017, Dominick was at sea on the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) serving as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, a Naval Aviator, and a department head for Strike Fighter Squadron 115. He has accumulated more than 1,600 hours of flight time in 28 aircraft, 400 carrier-arrested landings, and 61 combat missions.
Jessica Watkins was born in Maryland, but considers Lafayette, Colorado, her hometown, according to an official biography released by NASA. Watkins graduated from Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, before earning a Bachelor’s degree in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University and a Doctorate in Geology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
During undergraduate internships at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Watkins conducted research supporting the Phoenix Mars Lander mission and prototype Mars drill testing. She also served as chief geologist for NASA Spaceward Bound Crew 86 at the Mars Desert Research Station in 2009. As a graduate student, Watkins participated in several internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), including analysis of near-earth asteroids discovered by the NEOWISE mission in 2011, tactical and strategic planning for the Curiosity mission in 2013, and system design testing for the upcoming Mars 2020 and Mars Sample Return missions the following year. In addition, she served as a science operations team member for a Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) analog mission at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2011 and participated in the NASA Planetary Science Summer School at JPL in 2016.
In addition to Dominick and Watkins, two additional candidates have ties to Colorado:
Raja Chari graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1999 with Bachelor’s degrees in Astronautical Engineering and Engineering Science. He continued on to earn a Master’s degreen in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.
Robb Kulin earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Denver, before going on to complete a Master’s degree in Materials Science and a Doctorate in Engineering at the University of California, San Diego.
These four were among the twelve men and women selected from a pool of more than 18,300 applicants, the largest applicant pool in NASA history. Selected candidates range in age from 29 to 42. The seven men and five women include six military officers, three scientists, two medical doctors, a lead engineer at SpaceX and a NASA research pilot.
Vice President Mike Pence joined NASA leaders Wednesday as they introduced members of the 2017 astronaut class during an event at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“These are 12 men and women whose personal excellence and whose personal courage will carry our nation to even greater heights of discovery and who I know will inspire our children and our grandchildren every bit as much as your forebears have done so in this storied American program,” said Vice President Pence. “And to this newest class of astronauts, it’s my honor to bring the sincere congratulations of the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. Your President is proud of you, and so am I.”
The new recruits will report for duty in August 2017, when they will begin two years of training as Astronaut Candidates and upon completion, will be assigned duties in the Astronaut Office while awaiting flight assignments.
The new astronaut candidates could be assigned to missions performing research on the International Space Station (ISS), launching from American soil on spacecraft built by commercial companies, and flying on deep space missions on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.
“We look forward to the energy and talent of these astronauts fueling our exciting future of discovery,” acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said. “Between expanding the crew on board the space station to conduct more research than ever before, and making preparations to send humans farther into space than we’ve ever been, we are going to keep them busy. These candidates are an important addition to the NASA family and the nation’s human spaceflight team.”