Former Melbourne High science teacher appointed as NASA's Chief Astronaut

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Former Melbourne High science teacher turned veteran NASA astronaut Joseph Acabá was appointed as chief of the agency's Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston on Thursday.

Acabá is the first astronaut of Hispanic heritage selected to lead the office, according to NASA.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a release by NASA, "Joe is an experienced space flyer and a proven leader, and he will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of NASA astronauts."

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Joseph Acabá's new role at NASA

Acabá new role at the agency comes with the responsibility of managing astronaut resources and operations. He will also will play a key role in determining crew assignments for future missions, including long-duration stays at the International Space Station and, for the first time since 1972, missions to the moon with the agency's Artemis program.

Joseph M. Acaba was selected by NASA in 2004. The California native has logged a total of 306 days in space on three missions. He was named NASA's Chief Astronaut in February 2023.
Joseph M. Acaba was selected by NASA in 2004. The California native has logged a total of 306 days in space on three missions. He was named NASA's Chief Astronaut in February 2023.

"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," said Nelson.

Nelson recently said the announcement of Artemis crew assignments could be expected sometime in the spring of this year.

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman last held the agency's Chief Astronaut position for two years before stepping down in November last year to return to active astronaut duty and regain eligibility status to be assigned to future missions. Since then, the position had been held by NASA astronaut Drew Feustel as acting chief until the agency appointed a new leader.

NASA’s Director of Flight Operations Norm Knight, said in a release by NASA, "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."

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Before becoming an astronaut

Before being selected by NASA in 2004 as one of three “educator astronauts,” an initiative intended to build upon Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe’s Teacher in Space legacy, Acabá spent his first year as a full-time teacher from 1999-2000 at Melbourne High School. There he taught freshman science before moving on to teach middle school math and science in Dunnellon for four years.

Before teaching, he was a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserves, and worked as a hydro-geologist in Los Angeles. He also spent two years in the United States Peace Corps as an environmental education awareness promoter in the Dominican Republic.

The astronaut was recently at the center of a proposed renaming of Melbourne High in his honor.

The request was withdrawn in February last year after Acabá said he was unaware of the movement and was not interested in having the school named for him.

In May 2009, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba joined Melbourne High School students who gathered at the school stadium to watch the shuttle Atlantis lift off from Kennedy Space Center on the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Acaba, who taught science at Mel-Hi in 1999-2000, flew on Discovery's STS-119 mission and two other missions aboard Russian Soyuz capsules to the International Space Station. He has now been appointed as chief of NASA's Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center in Texas. (Photo: Tim Shortt, FLORIDA TODAY)

Acabá's experience at NASA includes three spaceflights, once aboard the space shuttle Discovery and twice in Russian Soyuz capsules. He has logged a total of 306 days in space taking part in three spacewalks and welcoming the first SpaceX Dragon cargo delivery to the ISS in 2012.

NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche said in a release by NASA, “Our Johnson Space Center team congratulates Joe Acabá on his appointment to chief of the Astronaut Office. We wish him well as he takes on this new and exciting leadership role."

Jamie Groh is a space reporter for Florida Today. You can contact her at Follow her on Twitter at @AlteredJamie.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Joseph Acabá named first Hispanic chief of NASA Astronaut Office