Science & Technology

Joe Acaba Selected To Serve As NASA’s Chief Astronaut

NASA astronaut Joe Acaba poses for a portrait on September 16, 2020, in the Blue Flight Control Room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA has selected veteran astronaut Joe Acaba as chief of the Astronaut Office at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. A decorated veteran of multiple spaceflights, as well a former U.S. Marine and former educator, Acaba is the first person of Hispanic heritage selected to lead the office.

Acaba takes the place of NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, who spent two years as deputy chief and has been acting chief of the office since NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman left the post late last year.

“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,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “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.”

In his new role, Acaba will be responsible for managing astronaut resources and operations. He also will help develop astronaut flight crew operation concepts and make crew assignments for future spaceflight missions, including astronauts assigned to fly on Artemis missions.

NASA Portrait of astronaut Joe Acaba. Credit: NASA

“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,” said NASA Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche. “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.”

A veteran of three spaceflights, Acaba was born in Inglewood, California. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geology at University of California in Santa Barbara, one master’s degree in geology from the University of Arizona, and one in education, curriculum and instruction from Texas Tech University, Lubbock. Before his selection as an astronaut candidate in 2004, Acaba spent time in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and the Peace Corps, worked as a hydrogeologist, and taught high school and middle school.

“Joe is an excellent leader who brings a wealth of experience to the Astronaut Office,” said NASA’s Director of Flight Operations Norm Knight, who made the selection. “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.”

Acaba spent 306 days in space, serving as mission specialist on space shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 mission and as flight engineer aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 31 and 32 in 2012, as well as Expeditions 53 and 54 in 2017-2018. During that time, he took part in three spacewalks building and upgrading the space station, supported the arrival of the first commercial resupply spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon, in May 2012. He was aboard the station when its standard crew complement increased from three to six, enabling NASA and its international partners to double the amount time dedicated to research. Since returning to Earth, he has supported the astronaut office in a number of roles, including director of operations in Russia, and chief of the Vehicle Integration Test Office.

Wiseman served as chief astronaut for two years before stepping down on November 14, 2022, to return to the pool of astronauts eligible for flight assignments. Feustel will continue to support the Astronaut Office.

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