On The Yard


    USNA Astronauts: The Journey to Space Often Starts Here

    By Bill the Goat on December 2, 2023

    USNA Astronauts: The Journey to Space Often Starts Here

    The U.S. Naval Academy is known for having many distinguished graduates. We count presidents, Nobel Prize winners, sports legends, and more among our ranks. One special occupation also commands an out-of-this-world proportion of U.S. Naval Academy graduates in its membership. That group? National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronauts. As of the time of this writing, fifty-four NASA astronauts have graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Not only is that a high representation, but it’s also the highest number of graduates from any school in the country. There are several reasons why space exploration often starts at USNA.




    How to Become an Astronaut: The Aerospace Major at USNA


    The Aerospace Engineering Department at the U.S. Naval Academy is the launchpad of many recent NASA astronauts’ careers. In fact, more than a dozen graduates of the Aerospace Engineering program have become astronauts. Recently ranked by U.S. News & World’s College Ranking report as the #5 Best Undergraduate Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Program, it’s “structured to produce naval officers who will meet the technical and leadership challenges of serving in such areas as naval aviation, space, and research.” Tailor-made for NASA’s space program and those of the budding commercial space industry, the mission of this program is to “provide the Navy and Marine Corps with engineering graduates capable of growing to fill engineering, leadership, and management roles in the Navy, government, and industry while maturing their fascination with air and space systems.” After graduation, many pursue aviation and space-related fields, making them eligible for selection by NASA for astronaut training. 


    NASA Astronauts Who Began at USNA

    The list of astronauts from the Naval Academy is long, starting with one of the most well-known space explorers, Alan Shepard, who graduated in the Class of 1945. Other noteworthy astronauts include the Honorable Charles F. Bolden (who reached the rank of Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps) from the Class of 1968, who became the first Black (and second astronaut) NASA administrator, named by President Barack Obama for this position. Captain Kathryn P. Hire, from the Class of 1981, was a dual-career Navy captain and NASA astronaut who flew in two space missions, and her classmate Captain Wendy B. Lawrence flew four shuttle flights. Captain William C. McCool from the Class of 1983 made some exceptional contributions to research as part of the Columbia space shuttle mission. Sunita L. Williams, part of the Class of 1987, holds the spacewalking record for women.


    Colonel Nicole Mann, a NASA astronaut, U.S. Marine Corps combat fighter pilot, and 1999 USNA graduate who was selected by NASA in June 2013 and launched to the International Space Station (ISS) as commander of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, Endurance, on October 5, 2022. Most recently, Lieutenant Commander Kayla Barron, Class of 2010, joined their ranks and is an integral part of the exciting and innovative Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon.



    All in all, these graduates have turned in impressive achievements as astronauts. Two worked on Project Mercury, three were engaged with Project Gemini, seven were with the Apollo program, three walked on the Moon, one participated in the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, and forty-two took part in the Space Shuttle program.


    Help Them Soar


    The Naval Academy Business Services Division (NABSD) plays a large role in building the teamwork, fun, and camaraderie that bonds the midshipmen during their four years here and beyond. By helping provide extracurricular activities like cultural arts, music, theater, and club sports, they cement this bond and provide new ways for future naval officers to grow and thrive. You can help the NABSD by visiting the Yard. Your dining, USNA tours, and purchases at our shop all contribute 100 percent to the women and men who give 100 percent for our country. Come see the launchpad of space exploration. The path begins here on the Yard.

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    Bill the Goat
    Written by Bill the Goat | December 2, 2023


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