NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recognized members of the latest astronaut class on Friday as they graduated from candidates to astronauts. These exceptional individuals were selected from a record pool of more than 18,000 applicants and included some of the brightest and most skilled individuals in the U.S. and Canada. Several graduating members of this elite group have direct ties to local California communities. This is something your community can take pride in, as it is a reflection of who we are and what we are capable of doing. 

These new astronauts will support NASA’s current missions, including the work aboard the International Space Station, the Commercial Crew Program to launch to low-Earth orbit from the U.S. aboard American-made commercial spacecraft, in addition to the Artemis Program to send humans back to the Moon by 2024 with an eye on eventually getting to Mars. Outlined below are a few of the candidates and their ties to California communities.

  • Raja Chari served as commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and as the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California
  • Matthew Dominick earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the University of San Diego
  • Warren “Woody” Hoburg earned a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California Berkley
  • Dr. Jonny Kim was born and raised in Los Angeles and received a degree in mathematics at the University of San Diego
  • Robb Kulin completed a master’s degree in materials science and a doctorate in engineering at the University of California San Diego and worked for SpaceX in Hawthorne
  • Loral O-Hara was an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena
  • Jessica Watkins earned a doctorate in geology from the University of California Los Angeles and worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

As director at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center located on Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster, I am proud of California’s ongoing contributions to this nation’s space program. The early testing of the X-15 aircraft in the 1950s and '60s helped us understand thermal dynamics, life support systems and flight controls needed to exit and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. 

Our center’s namesake, Neil A. Armstong, piloted the X-15 before going on to make his infamous giant leap for mankind. The center hosted 59 landings of the space shuttles that many of us recall as they produced double sonic booms that could be heard across Southern California before landing. The community is fortunate to have shuttle Endeavour on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Our pilots helped ferry the space shuttle back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a specially modified Boeing 747 aircraft that is now retired at Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in Palmdale. More recently, center staff supported the Ascent Abort-2 test that successfully demonstrated the critical launch abort system designed to protect the astronauts in the event of a launch emergency to support the Artemis mission.

I am proud of our accomplishments and our workforce. I congratulate our new California astronauts. Perhaps most importantly, I am thankful for our communities who collectively have helped guide and influence these new astronauts to reach for the stars at they join this new Artemis generation of explorers. 

David McBride is the center director at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center.