Marine Corps Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli, who was a test pilot with Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 31 from March 2014 to August 2015, was recently selected for NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class.
NASA received a record-breaking 18,300 applicants for the 2017 class, and it was the largest class selected since the year 2000, with 12 slots. Moghbeli, who always dreamed of being an astronaut, credits her vast military test experience, including her time spent with VX-31, as one of the reasons she was among those selected.
“My dream of being an astronaut is actually what led me to the military,” she said, “and it was my experience as a Marine that opened the door for this opportunity.”
New York native Moghbeli’s first impression of the desert valley was, “Oh wow, this is different!” But as time went on, she said she grew to love the area and the people.
During much of her time with VX-31 at China Lake, Moghbeli worked as a project officer for the H-1 Weapon Systems Support Activity, which was responsible for the integration and evaluation of weapons, aircraft systems and support systems for the attack and utility Marine Corps helicopter mission. Most of her time was dedicated to the Intrepid Tiger II pod, an electronic warfare pod that was integrated into the UH-1 Yankee.
When the program consolidated, moving the developmental test piece to Patuxent River, Maryland and the operational piece to Yuma, Arizona, Moghbeli was the last remaining pilot at China Lake. She stayed to finish up her work on the IT II before joining her H-1 team members in Arizona in August 2015.
“We had such a tight group in the H-1 program with the pilots and engineers,” Moghbeli said. “I formed some really good friendships and the people are what made it memorable. We still keep in touch today.”
Axel Alvarez, former engineering lead with the H-1 flight test team, remembered Moghbeli as a “free spirit who was smart and fun to work with.”
“She’s a great fit for the NASA program,” Alvarez said. “We are all so proud of her and we feel like she’s taken a little piece of China Lake with her.”
Applying to the NASA program was initially very simple: submit a resume and five references. Moghbeli even solicited a couple of her China Lake team members to apply with her.
And then the waiting began.
Several months later, she started hearing from a few of her references and she knew she was still in the running and questionnaires were sent out to approximately 500 remaining candidates.
Moghbeli waited patiently through each phase, trying to remain hopeful that she would make it to the next step. When the initial interview process began, the candidate number had been weeded down to only 120 applicants. During those interviews, Moghbeli specifically pulled from her experience as a test pilot and how it could contribute to NASA’s mission.
A year after her initial application, NASA had narrowed down their pool to only 50 applicants, and Moghbeli was invited for a week long, in-person interview at the Johnson Space Center.
The final call came May 25; Moghbeli had just gotten off a red-eye flight to participate in a friend’s wedding.
“I was standing outside the hotel with all of my bags and struggling to answer the phone,” she recalled. “Three members of the Astronaut Selection Board were on the other end and asked if I still wanted to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. Of course I said yes!”
Moghbeli will be required to complete two years of extensive in-class training. Upon completion, she will officially receive the title of “astronaut” and be assigned a technical duty in the astronaut office. Her duties could be in a variety of areas, including robotics or operations with time spent working and developing those important technical skills. The astronauts will then be assigned a mission followed by training and preparation.
Although she will always be a part of the Marine Corps, Moghbeli now feels like she’s become a part of the NASA family and has been touched by the amount of camaraderie she feels with the other astronaut selectees.
But as she follows her childhood dream and begins a new journey with NASA, Moghbeli said she will always think fondly of China Lake.
“China Lake is one of the most special places,” she said. “Anytime I hear the mention of China Lake or Ridgecrest, my ears perk up; it’s that place that many don’t know about, but those who do, know what cool stuff goes on out there.”