– As NASA moves closer to selecting its first crew to fly to the moon in more than 50 years, the space agency has a new leader for its galaxy.
Joe Acaba, a former teacher who flew three times into space including a long-duration stay on the International Space Station, has been named the new director of the Astronaut Office. at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Acaba succeeds Reid Wiseman, who held the position for two years, and Drew Feustel, who has served as interim manager since Wiseman stepped down in Nov. 14 to return to active flight duty.
“Congratulations to Joe Acaba on being named the new director of the office of scientists!” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement released Thursday (Feb. 2). “Joe is an experienced astronaut and proven leader, and will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of NASA astronauts.”
“As we build on the unprecedented success of the International Space Station in low Earth orbit with our eyes on the moon and Mars, Joe will play a key role in ensuring that NASA astronauts are prepared for the challenges of coming,” said Nelson. “I also want to thank Reid Wiseman for his steadfast leadership, and to Drew Feustel for stepping up to continue the office’s long legacy of excellence and integrity.”
As director, Acaba will be responsible for selecting astronauts for future missions, including commercial flights to the International Space Station and Artemis missions to orbit and land on the moon. NASA is expected to name the crew of Artemis II – the first spacecraft to fly to the moon since the end of the Apollo program in 1972 – this spring for an early launch in late 2024.
Depending on the status of Artemis II’s crew selection, Acaba may participate in that historic decision.
“Our Johnson Space Center team congratulates Joe Acaba on his appointment as director of the astronaut office,” said center director Vanessa Wyche. “We wish him the best of luck as he takes on this new and exciting leadership role.”
Acaba will now lead 41 active US astronauts and 10 space shuttle candidates and will coordinate activities and missions with an additional 15 international astronauts from Canada, Japan and The United Arab Emirates are training as part of NASA’s human spaceflight program.
Chosen with “The Peacocks,” NASA’s 19th astronaut team selected in 2004, Acaba is a geologist, former high school teacher and the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to join the NASA team. As an instructor-astronaut, Acaba spent 306 days in space.
In 2009, he served as a mission specialist on Discovery’s STS-119 crew, which delivered the fourth solar array for the International Space Station. He subsequently flew two Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the space station, serving as flight engineer on Expeditions 31/32 and 53/54 in 2012 and 2018, respectively.
When he was not in space, Acaba joined the analog missions in the rocks (ESA’s CAVES) and in the underwater laboratory (NASA’s SEATEST). He also served as branch manager for the space station’s operations department and director of operations at Star City, supporting crew training in Russia.
“Joe is an outstanding leader who brings a wealth of experience to the astronaut office,” said NASA Administrator of Flight Operations Norm Knight, who made the selection. “Knowing the importance of this position and the integrity of those who have served, I am confident that Joe will be an outstanding chief astronaut who will lead our astronauts into a bright future.”
Acaba is NASA’s 18th astronaut, a position first created and held by Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton in 1962 (the title “flight chief” or “astronaut office chief” was established until in late 1963, when Alan Shepard took over. role). Acaba is the first person of Hispanic heritage to be appointed to the job.
Early astronauts included: Slayton (1962-1963); Shepard (1963-1969); Thomas Stafford (1969-1971); Shepard (1971-1974); John Young (1974-1987); Dan Brandenstein (1987-1992); Robert “Hoot” Gibson (1992-1994); Robert Cabana (1994-1997); Kenneth Cockrell (1997-1998); Charles Precourt (1998-2002); Kent Rominger (2002-2006); Steven Lindsey (2006-2009); Peggy Whitson (2009-2012); Robert Behnken (2012-2015); Christopher Cassidy (2015-2017); Patrick Forrester (2017-2020) and Wiseman (2020-2022).