A record-breaking number of applicants, some 18,300 of them, sought to be part of this year’s NASA astronaut class. Twelve made the cut. One is from Alaska.
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence helped introduce the 2017 astronaut class during an event at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Among the new astronauts is Robb Kulin, 33, of Anchorage. He’s worked as a fisherman in Chignik, has been an ice driller in Antarctica, and has a doctorate in engineering from the University of California, San Diego. He also has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Denver and a master’s degree in materials science. Kulin is a pilot and plays the piano. He SCUBA dives and skis.
His parents, Stephen and Karen Kulin, live in Anchorage, where he graduated from Service High School.
Kulin was most recently a senior manager for flight reliability at SpaceX, where he has led the Launch Chief Engineering group in Hawthorne, California.
Kulin should be ready for space flight, having spent time in the wildest reaches on earth. While in Antarctica, the adventurous Kulin led a team that was gathering drilled core samples of ice to examine ancient air in the Taylor Glacier. Scientists theorize that around 11,500 years ago, methane in the atmosphere increased by 50 percent within a span of 200 years, leading to climate change. For two months Kulin worked toward the eventual goal of establishing the Taylor Glacier as an ancient air and ice sample archive that can be used in future research.
A LONE NAYSAYER
Sen. Dan Sullivan posted a congratulatory note on Twitter today: “Congrats to Alaskan Robb Kulin, selected out of 18,300 applicants to join
@NASA 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. #NewAstronauts.”
And because this is Alaska, some former journalists could not help themselves but be a quick draw on social media. Former Alaska Dispatch News Editor Pat Dougherty responded to Sen. Sullivan’s cheerful message with a retort: “Could this doofus @SenDanSullivan seem any more irrelevant?” Sullivan’s communication director Mike Anderson responded to Dougherty, reminding him to #StayClassy.
But, Dougherty aside, everyone else was congratulatory in the social media storm that ensued, including Gov. Bill Walker, who also said he was excited to learn the news, and a former classmate of Kulin’s, Natasha Price, who posted on Twitter: “So freaking cool to see my schoolmate since kindergarten, Robb Kulin, in this photo.”
For Robert Service High School, it is the first astronaut alumnus, which is “freaking cool” bragging rights for any high school in Alaska. The astronaut candidates will begin two years of training at the Johnson Space Center starting in August.