NASA Veteran (and RPCV) Joe Acaba to Serve as Agency’s Chief Astronaut at Johnson Space Center
By NASA information center // February 3, 2023
A decorated veteran of multiple spaceflights, as well as a former U.S. Marine and former educator, Acaba is the first person of Hispanic heritage selected to lead the office.
Acaba takes the place of NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, who spent two years as deputy chief and has been acting chief of the office since NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman left the post late last year.
“Congratulations to Joe Acaba on being named the new chief of the astronaut office! Joe is an experienced space flyer and a proven leader, and he will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of NASA astronauts.”
“As we build on the International Space Station’s unparalleled success in low-Earth orbit with our eyes on the Moon and then Mars, Joe will play an integral role in ensuring our NASA astronauts are prepared for the challenges ahead,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
“I also want to thank Reid Wiseman for his steady leadership, and to Drew Feustel for jumping in to continue the office’s long legacy of excellence and integrity.”
In his new role, Acaba will be responsible for managing astronaut resources and operations. He also will help develop astronaut flight crew operation concepts and make crew assignments for future spaceflight missions, including astronauts assigned to fly on Artemis missions.
“Our Johnson Space Center team congratulates Joe Acaba on his appointment to chief of the Astronaut Office. We wish him well as he takes on this new and exciting leadership role,” said NASA Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche.
“I extend my sincerest thanks to Reid Wiseman for his dedicated service to the Astronaut Office, as he completed the tremendous task of preparing our astronaut corps for daring missions to and from the International Space Station, and integrating their expertise and space knowledge to develop and test future technologies, software, and procedures, making space travel safer, reliable, comfortable, and attainable for our nation’s explorers.”
“A special thank you to Drew Feustel for stepping in to lead our astronaut corps following Reid’s transition. I appreciate his willingness to step in and help prepare our nation’s astronauts to explore space for the benefit of humanity.”
A veteran of three spaceflights, Acaba was born in Inglewood, California. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of California in Santa Barbara, one master’s degree in geology from the University of Arizona, and one in education, curriculum, and instruction from Texas Tech University, Lubbock. (NASA image)
A veteran of three spaceflights, Acaba was born in Inglewood, California. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of California in Santa Barbara, one master’s degree in geology from the University of Arizona, and one in education, curriculum, and instruction from Texas Tech University, Lubbock.
Before his selection as an astronaut candidate in 2004, Acaba spent time in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and the Peace Corps, worked as a hydrogeologist, and taught high school and middle school.
“Joe is an excellent leader who brings a wealth of experience to the Astronaut Office,” said NASA’s Director of Flight Operations Norm Knight, who made the selection.
“Knowing the significance of this position and the integrity of those who have previously served, I am confident Joe will be an outstanding chief for the Astronaut Office who will successfully lead our astronauts through an exciting future.”
Acaba spent 306 days in space, serving as a mission specialist on space shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 mission and as a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 31 and 32 in 2012, as well as Expeditions 53 and 54 in 2017-2018.
During that time, he took part in three spacewalks building and upgrading the space station, supporting the arrival of the first commercial resupply spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon, in May 2012.
He was aboard the station when its standard crew complements increased from three to six, enabling NASA and its international partners to double the amount of time dedicated to research. Since returning to Earth, he has supported the astronaut office in a number of roles, including director of operations in Russia, and chief of the Vehicle Integration Test Office.
Wiseman served as a chief astronaut for two years before stepping down on Nov. 14, 2022, to return to the pool of astronauts eligible for flight assignments. Feustel will continue to support the Astronaut Office.
Posted on Peace Corps Site
What inspired you to join the Peace Corps?
When I was in college, I heard Peace Corps recruiters come out and talk about Peace Corps, and I actually started the application process but then received a grant or scholarship to get my master’s degree, so I put Peace Corps off for a couple years. But it was always in the back of my mind. I just always thought that public service was really important – and then having the opportunity to do it overseas was cool and exciting.
What was your favorite thing about working in the Dominican Republic?
It’s got to be the people. It’s a very interesting culture. I’m Puerto Rican, so living with the Dominicans was a great time. They’re just so warm and welcoming and a lot of fun.
How did being a Volunteer prepare you for becoming an astronaut?
Living in a remote environment is not so different from being on the International Space Station—the international relations component of it; dealing with different cultures. We train in Russia [to prepare for missions to the ISS], which is a completely different culture for us. All of those little things we do in the Peace Corps were really applicable to what I’m doing today as an astronaut.
Your background is as an educator. Can you talk about the importance of STEM education?
I was a math and science teacher, and in the Peace Corps I did environmental education. When we look at what we’re going to do here on Earth, and as we explore more [in space], having that STEM background is super important. And it’s fun! When you think about science, technology and all that, you’re exploring every day and I think that’s pretty exciting.
Why is the Peace Corps important?
When you look at the Earth from the International Space Station, it’s one Earth. You can’t just look at your one country and want to serve there. I think the Peace Corps does what no other organization does: look at the world as a whole and go out and serve where we are best needed.