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480px-Joseph_Acaba_v2Joseph Michael “Joe” Aca­ba (born May 17, 1967) is an edu­ca­tor, hydro­ge­ol­o­gist, and NASA astro­naut. In May 2004 he became the first per­son of Puer­to Rican her­itage to be named as a NASA astro­naut can­di­date, when he was select­ed as a mem­ber of NASA Astro­naut Train­ing Group 19. He com­plet­ed his train­ing on Feb­ru­ary 10, 2006 and was assigned to STS-119, which flew from March 15 to March 28, 2009 to deliv­er the final set of solar arrays to the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion. Aca­ba served as a Flight Engi­neer aboard the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion, hav­ing launched on May 15, 2012. He arrived at the space sta­tion on May 17 and returned to Earth on Sep­tem­ber 17, 2012 at 6:53am Moscow Stan­dard Time when touch­down was offi­cial­ly record­ed by the Russ­ian Fed­er­al Space Agency.

Early life

Acaba’s par­ents, Ralph and Elsie Acabá, from Hatil­lo, Puer­to Rico, moved in the mid-1960s to Ingle­wood, Cal­i­for­nia where he was born. They lat­er moved to Ana­heim, Cal­i­for­nia. Since his child­hood, Aca­ba enjoyed read­ing, espe­cial­ly sci­ence fic­tion. In school, he excelled in both sci­ence and math. As a child, his par­ents con­stant­ly exposed him to edu­ca­tion­al films, but it was the 8-mm film show­ing astro­naut Neil Armstrong’s Moon land­ing which real­ly intrigued him about out­er space. Dur­ing his senior year in high school, Aca­ba became inter­est­ed in scu­ba div­ing and became a cer­ti­fied scu­ba div­er through a job train­ing pro­gram at his school. This expe­ri­ence inspired him to fur­ther his aca­d­e­m­ic edu­ca­tion in the field of geol­o­gy. In 1985, he grad­u­at­ed with hon­ors from Esper­an­za High School in Ana­heim.

Education

In 1990, Aca­ba received his Bachelor’s degree in Geol­o­gy from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­bara and in 1992, he earned his Master’s degree in Geol­o­gy from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona. Aca­ba was a Sergeant in the Unit­ed States Marine Corps Reserves where he served for six years. He also worked as a hydro­ge­ol­o­gist in Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia. Aca­ba spent two years in the Unit­ed States Peace Corps and trained over 300 teach­ers in the Domini­can Repub­lic in mod­ern teach­ing method­olo­gies. He then served as Island Man­ag­er of the Caribbean Marine Research at Lee Stock­ing Island in the Exu­mas, Bahamas. Upon his return to the U.S., Aca­ba moved to Flori­da where he became Shore­line Reveg­e­ta­tion Coör­di­na­tor in Vero Beach. He taught one year of sci­ence and math in high school and four years at Dun­nel­lon Mid­dle School. He also briefly taught at Mel­bourne High School in Mel­bourne, Flori­da. Upon his return to Earth in Fall 2012, Aca­ba will begin course­work for a Ph.D. in edu­ca­tion from Texas Tech Uni­ver­si­ty.

NASA career

Acaba_with_PR_Flag

Aca­ba with Puer­to Rican Flag aboard STS-119

On May 6, 2004, Aca­ba and ten oth­er peo­ple were select­ed from 99 appli­cants by NASA as astro­naut can­di­dates. NASA’s admin­is­tra­tor, Sean O’Keefe, in the pres­ence of John Glenn, announced the mem­bers of the “19th group of Astro­naut Can­di­dates”, an event which has not been repeat­ed since 1958 when the orig­i­nal group of astro­nauts was pre­sent­ed to the world. Aca­ba, who was select­ed as an Edu­ca­tor Mis­sion Spe­cial­ist, com­plet­ed his astro­naut train­ing on Feb­ru­ary 10, 2006 along with the oth­er ten Astro­naut Can­di­dates. Upon com­ple­tion of his train­ing, Aca­ba was assigned to the Hard­ware Inte­gra­tion Team in the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion branch, work­ing tech­ni­cal issues with Euro­pean Space Agency (ESA) hard­ware.

Mission Specialist Educators Lindenberger, Arnold, and Acaba during a parabolic flight.

Mis­sion Spe­cial­ist Edu­ca­tors Lin­den­berg­er, Arnold, and Aca­ba dur­ing a par­a­bol­ic flight.

Aca­ba was assigned to the crew of STS-119 as Mis­sion Spe­cial­ist Edu­ca­tor, which was launched on March 15, 2009 at 7:43 p.m., after NASA engi­neers repaired a leaky gas vent­ing sys­tem the pre­vi­ous week, to deliv­er the final set of solar arrays to the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion. Aca­ba, who car­ried on his per­son a Puer­to Rican flag, request­ed that the crew be awak­ened on March 19 (Day 5) with the Puer­to Rico folk­lore song “Qué Boni­ta Ban­dera” (What a Beau­ti­ful Flag) refer­ring to the Puer­to Rican flag, writ­ten in 1971 by Flo­ren­cio Morales Ramos (Rami­to) and sung by Jose Gon­za­lez and Ban­da Criol­la.

On March 20, he pro­vid­ed sup­port to the first mis­sion space­walk and on March 21, he per­formed a space­walk in which he helped to suc­cess­ful­ly unfurl the final “wings” of the solar array that will aug­ment pow­er to the ISS, as it pre­pares to dou­ble its capac­i­ty to house six astro­nauts in the future. On March 28 the Space Shut­tle Dis­cov­ery and its crew of sev­en safe­ly touched down on run­way 15 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Cen­ter in Flori­da at 3:14 p.m. EDT. Aca­ba said he was amazed at the views from the space sta­tion.

“It was kind of sur­re­al to look out the win­dow and see your two bud­dies out there that you’ve been train­ing with for a long time and see them out there…it was a spe­cial moment,” said Aca­ba.

On May 15, 2012, Aca­ba was one of three crew mem­bers launch­ing from Kaza­khstan aboard the Soyuz TMA-04M space­craft to the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion. He and his fel­low crew mem­bers, Gen­nady Padal­ka and Sergei Revin, arrived and docked with the space sta­tion two days after launch, on May 17 at 4:36 UTC. Aca­ba, along with Padal­ka and Revin, returned to Earth on Sep­tem­ber 17, 2012.

Recognition

On March 18, 2008, Aca­ba was hon­ored by the Sen­ate of Puer­to Rico, which spon­sored his first trip to the Com­mon­wealth of Puer­to Rico since being select­ed for space flight. Dur­ing his vis­it, which was announced by then Pres­i­dent of the Puer­to Rican Sen­ate, Ken­neth McClin­tock, he met with school­child­ren at the Capi­tol, as well as at the Bayamón, Puer­to Rico Sci­ence Park, which includes a plan­e­tar­i­um and sev­er­al sur­plus NASA rock­ets among its exhibits. Aca­ba, returned to Puer­to Rico on June 1, 2009. Dur­ing his vis­it, he was pre­sent­ed with a procla­ma­tion by then Gov­er­nor Luis For­tuño. He spent sev­en days on the island and came into con­tact with over 10,000 per­sons, most of them school­child­ren. He also received the Ana G. Mendez Uni­ver­si­ty Sys­tem Pres­i­den­tial Medal and a Doc­tor­ate Hon­oris Causa from the Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty of Puer­to Rico, where he inau­gu­rat­ed a flight sim­u­la­tor on Feb­ru­ary 7, 2013 dur­ing his most recent of many vis­its to Puer­to Rico to pro­mote the study of math and sci­ence among stu­dents, as well as to vis­it his rel­a­tives. Caras Mag­a­zine named him one of the most influ­en­tial and excit­ing Puer­to Ricans of 2012.