June 18, 2013
Students come to Albion College ready to explore, and it's a mindset they carry with them long after they graduate.
For Josh Cassada, opportunities for exploration have just taken one giant leap forward, as he was named one of NASA's eight astronaut candidates for 2013. Cassada and his family will relocate to Houston this summer, where Cassada will begin the two-year training program in August 2013.
Cassada, 39, a physics major originally from White Bear Lake, Minn., was one of more than 6,100 to apply in what became an 18-month search. His doctorate in physics and service as a Navy pilot made him an especially appealing candidate, but he notes that being an astronaut isn't simply about "rocket science."
"Aviation is a big part of the training, but we'll also be learning how to operate systems on the International Space Station," he said. "I'll also be studying Russian; it's a requirement for working on the ISS."
After the training period, astronauts are assigned duties within NASA, which will eventually lead to mission assignments. Getting into space is still years away, but NASA's projects hold incredible potential. "Right now, we're sending astronauts to the Internationally Space Station; hopefully, we will soon be launching with a domestic commercial vehicle," Cassada explained. "Eventually, we're excited about deep space exploration to an asteroid or Mars."
With the Navy, Cassada was the acceptance test pilot for the P8-A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and oversaw as much as $28 billion in Department of Defense aviation contracts. Cassada and classmate Aaron Miller, '95, a physics professor at Albion, recently co-founded Quantum Opus, a venture to aid experimental physicists in their research. Astronaut training means that Cassada will step down from Quantum Opus.
"We knew my leaving was a possibility -- although I thought it was low probability -- so we had built it into our plans," said Cassada. "Fortunately, we're in a great spot for this to happen and Aaron is ready to go on without me."
And although he's still one of the "newbies," Cassada is already feeling like part of the mission. "I received an unexpected phone call from Chris Cassidy who is currently on the International Space Station. He wanted to congratulate me, offer some insight on the next couple months and just catch up," Cassada noted. "I'm really excited to be a part of that new community."
Cassada, a 2012 recipient of the College's Distinguished Alumni Award, received his M.A. and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Rochester after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Albion.