NASA’s Astronaut Candidates With Ties To Colorado To Graduate With Eye On Artemis Missions

NASA will honor the first class of astronaut candidates to graduate under the Artemis program at 8:30 a.m. MST Friday, January 10, at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The ceremony will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

January 8, 2020 – Four astronaut candidates with ties to Colorado, including two that call Colorado home, will be honored as part of the first class of astronaut candidates to graduate under the Artemis program Friday, January 10, at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

After completing more than two years of basic training, these candidates will become eligible for spaceflight, including assignments to the International Space Station (ISS), Artemis missions to the Moon, and ultimately, missions to Mars.

The ceremony will air live at 8:30 a.m. MST on NASA Television and the agency’s website. The new graduates also will be available for in-person and remote media interviews following the ceremony.

The class includes 11 NASA candidates, as well as two Canadian Space Agency (CSA) candidates, selected in 2017. The NASA candidates were chosen from a record-setting pool of more than 18,000 applicants. The CSA candidates have been training alongside their NASA classmates.

Matthew Dominick, a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, was born and raised in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of San Diego and a master’s degree in systems engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland. Dominick was at sea on the USS Ronald Reagan, serving as department head for Strike Fighter Squadron 115, when he got the call saying he’d been selected as an astronaut candidate.

Jessica Watkins was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland and now calls Lafayette, Colorado home. She graduated from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, with a bachelor’s degree in geological and environmental sciences, then went on to earn a doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Watkins has worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology, where she collaborated on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. 

Raja Chari, a U.S. Air Force colonel, hails from Cedar Falls, Iowa. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado with bachelor’s degrees in astronautical engineering and engineering science. He continued on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and also graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. Chari served as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Dr. Francisco “Frank” Rubio, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, was born in Los Angeles and now calls Miami home. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and a doctorate of medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland. Rubio has accumulated more than 1,100 hours as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, including 600 hours of combat and imminent danger time. He was serving as a surgeon for the 3rd Battalion of the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colorado, before coming to NASA.

All astronaut candidates have completed training in spacewalking, robotics, ISS systems, T-38 jet proficiency, and Russian language. At the ceremony, each candidate will receive an astronaut pin, marking their graduation from basic training and their eligibility to be selected to fly in space.

As astronauts, they’ll help develop spacecraft, support the teams currently in space and ultimately, have the opportunity to join the ranks of only about 500 people who have had the honor of going into space. NASA continues its work aboard the space station, which is preparing to mark the 20th consecutive year of humans living onboard in November 2020. The agency also is on the verge of launching Americans from American soil aboard commercial spacecraft and is preparing to send humans to the Moon as part of the Artemis program.