NASA welcomes Baldwinite to its crew

Bridget Downes for Long Island Herald

January 16, 2020

Originally published in Long Island Herald on January 16, 2020.

The room fell quiet and all eyes were trained on the projection screen on stage as a livestream showed Jasmin Moghbeli graduating from NASA’s Artemis program. Moghbeli, who grew up in Baldwin, was one of 11 candidates welcomed to the agency, becoming eligible for spaceflight assignments, including trips to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the moon and even missions to Mars.

More than 50 fifth-grade students sat in rows of chairs in the Lenox Elementary School gymnasium, joined by teachers, administrators and local media to watch Moghbeli, 36, a Lenox alumna, celebrate a special moment in her life at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston last Friday.

The new astronauts, NASA representatives said in a news release, completed more than two years of training and are the first to graduate since the agency announced its Artemis program. They were chosen from a “record-setting” pool of more than 18,000 applicants and will take part in assignments that “will expand humanity’s horizons in space for generations to come.”

After the ceremony, students Skyped with Moghbeli, asking her questions, moderated by Lenox Principal Asheena Baez, who noted that the astronaut “sat in the very seats you’re sitting in.”

“For me, it all actually really started at Lenox when I was in sixth grade,” Moghbeli said, recalling a book report she did on Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian cosmonaut who was the first woman in space. “It was that book report that really got me excited about becoming an astronaut and introduced me to that possibility, that that’s something I can do . . . and now I’m lucky enough to be here today and living out that dream.”

Moghbeli was born in Bad Nauheim, Germany, but considers Baldwin her hometown. She graduated from Baldwin High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering with information technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School.

Moghbeli is also a U.S. Marine Corps major and test pilot, having accumulated more than 1,600 hours of flight time and 150 combat missions. At the time of her candidacy selection in 2017, NASA representatives said, Moghbeli was testing H-1 helicopters and serving as the quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 of the U.S. Marine Corps in Yuma, Ariz. She has been awarded four Air Medals, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and other commendations.

“My parents have always believed in me, and they’ve always showed me what you can accomplish through hard work,” Moghbeli told the Lenox students. “And for me, having my parents believe I could do something, that convinced me. I was like, ‘Well, if they think I can do it, I can do it.’”

Lenox student Madison Lopez asked Moghbeli for an inspiring message for the fifth-grade class. “I want to be an astronaut when I grow up,” Lopez said.

The astronaut said to dream big, but work hard. “Were there ever people that doubted me? Absolutely, there were,” Moghbeli said. “There will always be people out there that doubt you. When I was a sixth-grader and I said I was going to become an astronaut, do you think everyone was like, ‘Yep, she’s going to become an astronaut?’ Probably not. So at the end of the day, you have to believe that you’re doing what you love doing and that will be enough to get you through. You’re going to fail at some point, but just keep going.”

She said she doubted herself when she earned a 24 out of 100 on one of her first college exams, but persevered anyway. She was cushioned by support from her family and friends.

“It was inspiring,” student Channon Dunbar said. “It tells you to dream big and you can achieve your goals.”

Dunbar asked how it felt to come from Baldwin and inspire students from the elementary school that she, herself, attended.

“It feels incredible and a bit surreal, actually,” Moghbeli said. “When I was sitting there, did I think I was ever going to be here in this position? I dreamed I would be, but it was pretty easy to doubt that.”

Students also asked her about her support system, and Moghbeli said her family, first and foremost, influenced her journey as well as teachers throughout her academic career and her friends.

“You don’t get to choose your family, but you do get to choose your friends,” she said, “and I always had a good group of friends around me who not only supported me, but also challenged me and pushed me to work my hardest and do my best. And I think that was incredibly important in shaping my path.”

Schools Superintendent Dr. Shari Camhi thanked Moghbeli for taking time out of her special day to share her experience with Lenox students, adding that all of Baldwin was buzzing.

“They’re excited because you are our first ‘Baldwinaut,’” Camhi said. “We have actually coined that term. You are an inspiration for every young person, every adult in our schools and in our community because you represent what’s possible … There are many role models in the world, but when a role model comes from your street, it means something even more.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the ceremony that Jan. 10 was an exciting day for the new astronauts, but also for humanity.

“In addition to expeditions on the International Space Station, these astronauts could one day, in fact, walk on the moon as a part of the Artemis program, and, perhaps, one of them could be among the first humans to walk on Mars,” Bridenstine said. “Their trailblazing triumphs will transform humanity’s presence in our solar system and forever change life here on Earth. In short, they represent the best of humanity and our most fervent hopes for the future.

“No pressure,” he added with a laugh.

“This is such an incredible achievement and shows that through hard work and commitment, you can literally reach for the stars,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky said in a statement. “Jasmin has the admiration of her community and is truly an inspiration for all Long Islanders.”