The Volunteer Who Became an Astronaut | Joseph M. Acaba (Dominican Republic)


by Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963-65)


Joseph Acaba wears his Peace Corps t-shirt in space!


Joseph M. Acaba spent two years in the Peace Corps serving in the Dominican Republic, 1994-96. Ten years later, in May of 2004, he became the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to be named as a NASA astronaut candidate when he was selected as a member of NASA Astronaut Training Group 19. He completed his training on February 10, 2006, and was assigned to STS-119, which flew from March 15 to 28, 2009, to deliver the final set of solar arrays to the International Space Station.

The STS-119 crew – March 2009. Joseph at left rear

In 1990, Joseph had received his bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of California/Santa Barbara, and in 1992 he earned his master’s degree in geology from the University of Arizona.  He then went on to earn an M.Ed. in 2015 from Texas Tech University. In between these higher educational endeavors, he somehow managed to serve for six years in the Marine Corps Reserves.

On May 6, 2004, Joseph and ten other candidates were selected from 99 applicants by NASA as astronaut candidates. He was selected as an Educator Mission Specialist, completed his astronaut training on February 10, 2006, along with ten other astronaut candidates. Upon completion of his training, he was assigned to the Hardware Integration Team in the International Space Station branch, working on technical issues with the European Space Agency.

On one mission in March 2009, Joseph carried on his person a Puerto Rican flag, requested that the crew be awakened on March 19 with the Puerto Rico folklore song “Que Bonita Bandera” (What a Beautiful Flag), referring to the Puerto Rican flag, written by Florencio Morales Ramos and sung by Jose Gonzalez and Banda Criolla. On this same mission, he provided support to the first mission spacewalk, and on March 21, he performed a spacewalk with another crew member in which he helped successfully unfurl the final “wings” of the solar array that will augment power to the Space Station. Then, two days later, Joseph performed his second EVA (external work on the Station) of the mission with a fellow crew member. The main task was to help move some ‘carts’ fastened on the outside of the vehicle to a different and more difficult location on the Space Station.

Between space missions, he served as the Branch Chief of the Space Station Operations unit. This is the office responsible for mission preparedness, and on-orbit support of space station crews.

STS-119 blast-off

Joseph served as a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station launched on May 15, 2012. He arrived at the Space Station on May 17 and returned to Earth on September 17, 2012. He then returned to the Space Station on September 17, 2012. Then, once again, he returned to the Space Station in 2017 as a member of Expedition 53/54. Over the years, Joseph’s missions in totality covered 306 days and 34 minutes of space duration, and 19 hours and 46 minutes of Spacewalk duration, including two Soyuz missions with Russian astronauts in 2015 and 2017.

In 2013, he received the Ana G. Mendez University System Presidential Medal and an Honorary Doctorate from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. In 2023, Joseph was appointed the Chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA.

Given Joseph’s extraordinary professional career and leadership with NASA over the past several decades, he most certainly has earned a Profile in Citizenship.

See Joseph talk about Peace Corps and being an astronaut on YouTube! 

One Comment

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  • Joseph Acaba Iid PR. Because he volunteered two years in the peace corps in DR . Not sure what the purpose of adding DR next to his name in the introduction is for if not to mislead.

    If you want to talk about his volunteer service there then tittle it accurately. Boricua astronaut volunteered in the DR something like that.

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