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Hicks Hosts Discussion With Astronauts, Service Members

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks hosted a roundtable discussion Tuesday with the crew of a multinational SpaceX Crew-5 mission and aspiring astronaut service members.

Marine Corps Col. Nicole A. Mann, SpaceX Crew-5 mission commander, and Navy Capt. Josh A. Cassada, mission pilot, were military pilots before becoming astronauts in 2013 and launching as part NASA's fifth, operational commercial crew aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon in October.

A woman in a suit poses with men and women wearing flight suits.
Hicks Meeting
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks meets with NASA astronauts Marine Corps Col. Nicole Mann, Koichi Wakata, Navy Capt. Josh Cassada at the Pentagon, Jun. 6, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders
VIRIN: 230606-D-XI929-2002

They were joined by fellow crew member Koichi Wakata, a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut.

The visiting Space-X crew encouraged the group of officers from across the services to pursue their dreams of becoming astronauts.

Hicks said she hoped the discussion would encourage those currently serving to continue to reach for the stars and serve as a reminder that their leaders will stand behind them in pursuing their goals.

"We really do put a priority on making sure that we can take care of our people and that we have the kind of workplace that attracts the world-class workforce," Hicks said.

"This is a world-class workforce present here in this room," she said. "This is more than people who have the right stuff; these are people who have really broken barriers."

Mann, a graduate of the Naval Academy who began her career as an F-18 pilot, said the idea of becoming an astronaut first crossed her mind after her second deployment when she began pursuing a path to become a test pilot.

NASA opened its application process, and Mann said she went for it. Eventually, she became the first Indigenous American from NASA to go to space.

Mann told the group that military service is an excellent path to becoming an astronaut.

A group of men and women sit around a large table.
Meeting with Astronauts
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks meets with NASA astronauts Marine Corps Col. Nicole Mann, Koichi Wakata, Navy Capt. Josh Cassada and prospective astronauts at the Pentagon, June 6, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders
VIRIN: 230606-D-XI929-2017

"And, really, it's not just in aviation; that's one way but we have a lot of military astronauts that are that are not aviators," she said.

Cassada, who completed a Ph.D. in high energy physics before joining the Navy and becoming a P-3, said he wasn't selected when he first applied to NASA in 2009, but he was encouraged to try again in 2013.

He said the interview process itself was inspiring.

"You're sitting in a room of just incredibly capable, incredibly passionate people who were either interviewing you, or you're interviewing with them," he said. "And, for me, that was just exciting and invigorating to know that there are people out there doing amazing things."

The panel fielded questions from the 11 service members in attendance on the future of the space mission and what it's like to work aboard the International Space Station.

Attendees were particularly interested in Cassada's experience completing a nearly seven-hour spacewalk to install a new solar array weighing 750 pounds outside the International Space Station.

A rocket lifts off.
Falcon Takeoff
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft on its fifth operational flight with astronauts on-board launches from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., Oct. 5, 2022.
Photo By: Joshua Conti, Space Force
VIRIN: 221005-X-KD758-1001

Cassada described the endeavor in detail, highlighting the preparation and teamwork that made the evolution a success.

"Physically it was challenging, but the fact that we were able to kind of think ahead and kind of anticipate what the problems would be made it really quite manageable," he said.

Cassada conducted a total of three spacewalks totaling 21 hours and 24 minutes while aboard the ISS.

He said he was able to do them "because of amazing people both on board and on the ground."

Mann said the opportunities to pursue a career in space are only going to grow in the future.

"I really think in the next decade, a lot of the things that we thought were very, kind of futuristic will become reality," she said. "And, so, we're going need the young and the bright, the brightest that you have that are excited in order to take us through that mission to be successful."

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