Deltona High grad among 10 new NASA astronaut candidates

picture of Luke Delaney

One of 10 new NASA astronaut candidates grew up with rocket launches in his backyard.

Luke Delaney, 42, was born in Miami but grew up in DeBary, attending both DeLand and Deltona High School in Volusia County. He was among 10 candidates that will begin two years of training starting in January to gear up for future missions either to the International Space Station or on Artemis flights to deep space.

“I wanted to be an astronaut when growing up in Central Florida, got to see some launches, got some exposure to that,” Delaney said. “I think it was a big effort or big endeavor at the schools and elementary school, and you got a lot of exposure to those kind of things.”

Delaney joins current NASA astronaut Joe Acabá with Central Florida ties. Acabá, who once taught science and math at Melbourne High School in Brevard County as well as Dunnellon Middle School in Marion County, was chosen last year to be among NASA’s astronaut corps for its Artemis missions.

Other notable former astronauts with Central Florida ties include second man on the moon and Florida Tech professor Buzz Aldrin; moonwalker and commander of the first space shuttle mission John Young; and UCF graduate Nicole Stott who flew on the space shuttle and spent 91 days on board the ISS.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson welcomed Delaney and his fellow classmates at a ceremony Monday near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The 10 were whittled down from more than 12,000 applicants, and the first new class of astronaut candidates since 2017.

“Today we welcome 10 new explorers, 10 members of the Artemis generation, NASA’s 2021 astronaut candidate class,” Nelson said. “Alone, each candidate has ‘the right stuff,’ but together they represent the creed of our country: E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.”

For the first time, NASA required its astronaut candidates to have at least a master’s degree in a STEM-oriented field.

Delaney is a retired veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, holds a degree in mechanical engineering from University of North Florida and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School.

“To me science, technology and math, all of those were areas of interest so it just made sense,” Delaney said. “The challenging part was just finding a way to navigate that path, and the military was just option I chose and it’s been quite a journey.”

While in service, Delaney flew combat missions as a naval aviator in the Asia Pacific region and in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He also flew as a test pilot to evaluate weapon testing systems, and served as a test pilot instructor. He has more than 3,700 flight hours on 48 models of aircraft.

His most recent work brought him to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia where he served as a research pilot supporting NASA’s airborne science missions.

Delaney credits a math teacher for sparking his interest in STEM.

“There was one teacher from DeLand High School, Ms. Ebert, and she had a way of just bringing math and bringing it from a different perspective and motivating students and I think that really was something I just picked up on,” he said. “Her excitement and love for that was something I was really enjoying in the classes, and when I think back, that was really a turning point.”

As an astronaut, he could see his piloting skills applied in the future to the Orion spacecraft for lunar missions, or in the SpaceX Dragon or Boeing CST-100 Starliner commercial spacecraft for missions to the ISS.

But Delaney definitely has the moon on his mind.

“We’re looking at some potential deep-space exploration so going places that humans really haven’t been yet,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and inherent risk but it’s so exciting to think about what could be next, and what lies ahead for humanity. Those aspects excite me, so I’m looking forward to any moon missions or deep-space activities.”

Before then, he and the other candidates have to finish the training regimen that includes learning how to operate and maintain the ISS, training for spacewalks, developing complex robotics skills, safely operating a T-38 training jet, and developing Russian language skills.

The new class composed of six men and four women brings NASA’s astronaut corps selections to 360 since the original Mercury Seven were chosen in 1959.

Others in the class include Nichole Ayers, 32, a major in the Air Force and native of Colorado and one of the few women currently flying the F-22 Raptor fighter jet; Marcos Berríos, 37, a major in the Air Force who grew up in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico; Christina Birch, 35, a Gilbert, Arizona, native who holds a doctorate in biological engineering from MIT; Deniz Burnham, 36, a lieutenant in the Navy, from Wasilla, Alaska, with onsite drilling project management on her resume; Andre Douglas, 35, a Virginia native with several master’s degrees and doctorate in systems engineering who most recently worked at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab on maritime robotics, planetary defense and space exploration missions for NASA; Jack Hathaway, 39, commander and pilot in the Navy and native of Connecticut; Anil Menon, 45, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force raised in Minneapolis who was the first flight surgeon for SpaceX during the NASA Demo-2 mission; Christopher Williams, 38, from Potomac, Maryland with a doctorate in physics from MIT; and Jessica Wittner, 38, a lieutenant commander in the Navy and native of California.

“Each of you has amazing backgrounds,” said former astronaut and NASA’s deputy administrator Pam Melroy at the ceremony. “You bring diversity in so many forms to our astronaut corps and you stepped up to one of the highest and most exciting forms of public service.”

Tribou, R. (2021, Dec. 6) Central Florida native among 10 new NASA astronaut candidates. Orlando Sentinel.