Interview With NASA Astronauts Class Of 2024: The Pilots

19th Apr 2024
Interview With NASA Astronauts Class Of 2024: The Pilots

Note: Orbital Today would like to thank NASA Johnson Space Center for contacting us and kindly offering to let us interview their newly minted astronauts.

These were round-robin interviews and, because of timing, sometimes days or weeks shorter than I would have liked as an interviewer. Some lasted a few minutes, others squeezed in a full 10 minutes. However, their brevity allows me to put their short answers together in interesting combinations. So, with a little further ado, from NASA’s graduating astronaut class of 2024:

The Pilots:

Aviation is so essential to being a NASA astronaut that every student astronaut learns to fly, even if they are going to be a mission specialist. Like nautical terminology, it is part of the lingua franca of being an astronaut.

There are some in each class of astronauts that need no introduction to aviation. Being a pilot, and especially having experience as a test pilot, is the oldest path toward becoming an astronaut, and the class of 2024 shows that it still works. The right stuff these days is more than being a pilot, though. Leadership is vital, as space is a collaborative effort at over 17,000 mph.

Nicole Ayers

Nicole was one of the first women to fly the F-22, and the first to command an all-female squadron. Her advice for becoming an astronaut fits everyone, she emphasizes. STEM is something that young people can be interested in, “and if you are, go for it!”
She highly recommends becoming an expert in your field, and being happy doing it. “There were 12,000 applicants for our 12 positions!” You might not get in on the first try, so enjoying what you do is vital.

Jack Hathaway

Jack came to NASA as a naval aviator and  most recently assigned as the prospective executive officer for Strike Fighter Squadron 81. Among his other awards, he was recognized as 2013 VX-23 Test Pilot of the Year. He also has a unique set of international experiences, having completed  Empire Test Pilots’ School at Ministry of Defence Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, England. He also earned a MS in flight dynamics at the UK’s Cranfield University.

With future Artemis related launches in mind, Jack emphasizes that the U.S., “will continue to work with our international partners or the foreseeable future for the good of all mankind.”

Luke Delaney

Luke Delaney’s path to becoming one of the astronauts at NASA Johnson Space Center was the shortest, in some ways. Before becoming an astronaut, he flew for NASA Langley as a Research Pilot for airborne science missions after retiring from the U.S. Marines as a navigator and aviator. His biography on points out that he, “managed numerous projects involving significant platform modifications to incorporate research instrumentation, reviewing engineering assessments and evaluating aircraft airworthiness for safe operation.”

Airworthiness has gained the public’s attention in 2024 due in particular to Boeing’s ongoing quality issues in its aviation wing. Given that Boeing is also involved in many space sector projects, including Artemis, I asked him about the equivalent to airworthiness in space vehicles. “Spaceworthiness gets built into everything; it’s a factor whenever you add a new subsystem,” he replied.

As his time with NASA Langley involved a lot of work with Earth Observation, I also asked him about the need for humans in EO, especially given the gains in AI and satellite capabilities in the past few years. He sees people as still being an integral part of some EO missions. While a ‘blended solution’ involving both humans and computers is necessary, he points out that “humans can identify something that the satellites weren’t looking for.”

Next up!

Once again, Orbital Today would like to thank NASA Johnson Space Flight Center for arranging the interviews with their astronauts. We previously interviewed the commanders. We will wrap up the series by sharing our interviews with the mission specialists.

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