Alaskan selected as astronaut candidate for NASA

Robb Kulin, of Anchorage, Alaska, was named as one of 12 astronaut candidates for 2017.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) A former Alaskan has been selected as one of the next 12 NASA astronaut candidates.

The agency made the announcement Wednesday, that Robb Kulin, born and raised in Anchorage, made the cut from the more than 18,300 candidates to apply.

The number of applications was a record-high, and more than doubled the previous record of 8,000 set nearly 40 years ago in 1978.

This year’s application was the third for the Service High graduate. Kulin says he didn’t consider being an astronaut until he was working on his undergraduate degree at the University of Denver, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.

One of his assignments was a report on the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster.

“I think that just opened my eyes to the possibility of space being the next frontier,” Kulin said in a phone interview Thursday morning. “From the Last Frontier to the Next Frontier, I just wanted to get out and explore, and space seemed like the best place to do that.”

Kulin also earned a Master’s degree in Materials Science, and a Doctorate in Engineering from the University of California, San Diego. His doctorate studies focused on dynamic bone fracture. But he says perhaps living in San Diego and being from Alaska sparked a desire to go back to cold places, and he later spent time in Antarctica drilling ice cores.

He’s spent the last six-and-a-half years working for the private spacecraft and rocket launch company SpaceX. Kulin was the senior manager for flight reliability at the company, and led the Launch Chief Engineering group. He says he’s worked on design analysis, operations, systems, launch teams, and even failure investigations, which he says revealed valuable lessons to make rockets more reliable and safe for astronauts in the future.

Growing up in Alaska, and commercial fishing in the summers of his youth, are assets for his new job, Kulin says.

“Alaska's a very adventurous place,” Kulin said. “You really have to depend on each other, and so many of us enjoy being up in the mountains or out flying our planes somewhere, and that inspires a lot of teamwork and a lot of risk management decisions as well. We're out in a lot of places where if you make the wrong decision, things could go pretty south.”

“Being fortunate enough to have grown up there and to still call it home, it brings a little to the table that (NASA was) looking for too, that teamwork aspect and ability to make some risk management calls,” Kulin said.

Kulin and the other 11 candidates will begin two years of training in August.

Kulin said he was looking forward to the survival training, which he said would be like “getting to go play in the woods for a week.”

The training also includes learning Russian, learning to do space walks in a pool called the “neutral buoyancy lab,” and much more.
After training, Kulin says hopefully a flight assignment will come his way in the next couple of years.

Kulin says he plans to spend as much time as he can this summer in Alaska, where his parents still live.

Channel 2's Nikki Carvajal conducted the phone interview for this story.

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