For the first time, NASA has appointed a Hispanic person as chief astronaut. Joseph Michael Acabá, a Californian of Puerto Rican origin, will serve as chief of the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, as announced by the space agency on social media:
El veterano astronauta @AstroAcaba ha sido nombrado nuevo jefe de astronautas de la NASA. Acabá es la primera persona de ascendencia hispana seleccionada para dirigir la Oficina de Astronautas de @NASA_Johnson.
Más: https://t.co/dHF2RB716w pic.twitter.com/tLOdx9W1wD
— NASA en español (@NASA_es) February 2, 2023
Joe Acabá, who spent 306 days in space during three separate space missions, replaces NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, who served as interim chief of the office following the resignation in late 2022 of space agency astronaut Reid Wiseman.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a press release that Acabá will be responsible for managing astronaut resources and operations. In addition, Nelson also took the opportunity to thank the other two astronauts who left the position for their dedication to the space agency:
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. 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.
NASA explained that Acabá will collaborate to put operational concepts in place for astronaut flight crews and will decide on crews for future spaceflight missions, including the Artemis. These were tasks already performed by his predecessors, as explained by NASA Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche:
Our Johnson Space Center team congratulates Joe Acaba on his selection to chief of the Astronaut Office. We wish him well as he takes on this new and exciting leadership role. 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.
Who is Joe Acabá?
The astronaut has an extensive resume. A native of Inglewood, California, he received a B.S. in Geology from the University of Santa Barbara and an M.S. in Geology from the University of Arizona and an M.S. in Education, Curriculum and Instruction from Texas Tech University. Beginning as a high school teacher, he was selected to be an astronaut in 2004 after serving in the Marine Corps Reserve and Peace Corps. He carried out his first space mission in 2009. After this, he returned to space in 2012 and again in 2017-2018.
According to NASA's Director of Flight Operations Norm Knight, who selected him for the position, these qualities make him the ideal candidate to be the new chief of the Astronaut Office:
Joe is an excellent leader who brings a wealth of experience to the Astronaut Office. 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.