Joseph M. Acaba

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Joe Acabá
Joe Acabá pictured in 2008
Joseph Michael Acabá

(1967-05-17) May 17, 1967 (age 57)
EducationUniversity of California, Santa Barbara (BS)
University of Arizona (MS)
Texas Tech University (MEd)
Space career
NASA astronaut
RankSergeant, USMCR
Time in space
306d 34m
SelectionNASA Group 19 (2004)
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
19h 46m
Soyuz TMA-04M (Expedition 31/32)
Soyuz MS-06 (Expedition 53/54)
Mission insignia
STS-119 Expedition 31 Expedition 32

Joseph Michael Acabá (born May 17, 1967) is an American educator, hydrogeologist, and NASA astronaut.[1][2] In May 2004, he became the first person of Puerto Rican ancestry to be named as a NASA astronaut candidate, when he was selected as a member of NASA Astronaut Training Group 19.[3] He completed his training on February 10, 2006, and was assigned to STS-119, which flew from March 15 to 28, 2009, to deliver the final set of solar arrays to the International Space Station.[4] He is the first person of Puerto Rican origin, and the twelfth of fifteen people of Ibero-american heritage to have flown to space.[5]

Acabá served as a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station, having launched on May 15, 2012.[6] He arrived at the space station on May 17 and returned to Earth on September 17, 2012.[7] Acaba returned to the International Space Station in 2017 as a member of Expedition 53/54.[8] In 2023, Acaba was appointed the Chief of the Astronaut Office.

Early years[edit]

Acaba's parents, Ralph and Elsie Acabá, from Hatillo, Puerto Rico, moved in the mid-1960s to Inglewood, California, where he was born.[9] They later moved to Anaheim, California.[10] 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.[11] In 1985, he graduated with honors from Esperanza High School in Anaheim.[1]


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 Reserve 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.[1]

Upon his return to the United States, Acaba moved to Florida, where he became shoreline revegetation coordinator in Vero Beach. He taught one year of science and math in high school and four years at Dunnellon Middle School.[1] He also briefly taught at Melbourne High School in Melbourne, Florida.[12] Upon his return to Florida in fall 2012, Acaba began coursework in the College of Education at Texas Tech University.[13][14] He earned his Master of Education, curriculum and instruction from Texas Tech University in 2015.[1]

NASA career[edit]

Acaba with a 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.[1][15] 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.[1][15]

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.[4][16] 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)[17] and sung by Jose Gonzalez and Banda Criolla.[18][19]

On March 20, he provided support to the first mission spacewalk and on March 21, he performed a spacewalk with Steve Swanson in which he helped to successfully unfurl the final "wings" of the solar array that will augment power to the ISS. 2 days later, Acaba performed his second EVA of the mission, with crew member Ricky Arnold. The main task of the EVA was to help move the CETA carts on the outside of the station to a different location. 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.[20]

External videos
video icon Joseph Michael "Joe" Acaba and Suni Williams aboard the ISS during a Space Station Social Media Event

Expedition 31/32[edit]

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.[21] 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, after nearly 125 days in space.[7][22]

Between space missions[edit]

Acaba served as the Branch Chief of the International Space Station Operations branch. The office is responsible for mission preparation and on-orbit support of space station crews. Until being selected as flight engineer for Expedition 54\Expedition 55 Acaba served as Director of Operations Russia in Star City supporting crew training in Soyuz and Russian Segment systems.[1]

In September 2019 Acaba served as cavenaut[23] in ESA CAVES[24] training (between Italy and Slovenia) spending six nights underground simulating a mission exploring another planet.[25]

Expedition 53/54[edit]

In 2017 it was announced that Acaba would be returning to the ISS for his third mission, onboard Soyuz MS-06. The Soyuz vehicle was originally slated to launch with a crew of 2, due to the Russian crew cuts on the ISS for 2017, however, at short notice, it was decided that the 3rd seat would be filled by an experienced astronaut and would be funded by Roscosmos to cancel out owed debts. Acaba's backup for the mission was Shannon Walker, who was scheduled to fly as prime crew on Soyuz MS-12 as part of Expedition 59/60,[26][8] although as of December 2018, she is not assigned to that crew[27]

Acaba launched on Soyuz MS-06 on September 12, 2017, performing a 6-hour rendezvous with the ISS. On October 20, 2017, Acaba and Randy Bresnik performed an EVA to continue with the lubrication of the new end effector on the robotic arm, and to install new cameras. The duration was 6 hours and 49 minutes.[28] During the mission Acaba's home in Houston was flooded by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria struck his native Puerto Rico.[29]

# Spacecraft launch Launch date Mission Spacecraft landing Landing date Duration Spacewalk times Spacewalk duration
1 Discovery STS-119 March 15, 2009, 23:43UTC STS-119 Discovery STS-119 March 28, 2009, 19:13 UTC 12 days 19 hours 29 minutes 2 12 hours 57 minutes
2 Soyuz TMA-04M May 15, 2012, 03:01 UTC ISS-31 / ISS-32 Soyuz TMA-04M September 17, 2012, 02:52 UTC 124 days 23 hours 51 minutes 0 0
3 Soyuz MS-06 September 12, 2017, 21:17 UTC ISS-53 / ISS-54 Soyuz MS-06 February 28, 2018 168 days 5 hours 13 minutes 1 6 hours 49 minutes
306 days 34 minutes 3 19 hours 46 minutes

Chief of the Astronaut Office[edit]

In February, 2023, Acaba became Chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA. Acaba replaced Drew Feustel who was acting chief after Reid Wiseman stepped down from the position.[31]


Acaba's name is inscribed in the American Astronaut Wall of Fame in Winslow, Arizona.

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.[32] 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.[33]

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 received the Ana G. Mendez University System Presidential Medal and an Honorary Doctorate from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico,[34] where he inaugurated a flight simulator[35] on February 7, 2013, during one of his 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.[36][37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Joseph M. Acaba NASA Astronaut". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. September 12, 2018. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
  2. ^ NASA. "NASA Hispanic Astronauts". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Archived from the original on October 20, 2006. Retrieved November 26, 2006.
  3. ^ NASA. "Astronaut Class of 2004 (Group 19)". NASA. Retrieved November 26, 2006.
  4. ^ a b "Launch Schedule: Consolidated Launch Manifest". NASA. Archived from the original on January 27, 2010. Retrieved March 2, 2009.
  5. ^ "NASA Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month 2023". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved March 5, 2024.
  6. ^ "Biography of Josepth Acabá". Space Facts.
  7. ^ a b Harwood, William (May 17, 2012). "Three-man crew docks at International Space Station". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  8. ^ a b "NASA Announces Upcoming International Space Station Crew Assignments". NASA, press release 17-017. March 28, 2017.
  9. ^ Astronomy PR Archived May 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Bunis, Dena (May 10, 2004). "Teacher Is First Peace Corps Veteran To Be Named NASA Astronaut". Orange County Register. Archived from the original on May 26, 2008. Retrieved March 31, 2008.
  11. ^ NASA (2006). "Astronaut Candidate Interviews - Joseph Acaba". NASA. Retrieved November 21, 2007.
  12. ^ "Inglewood Astronaut to Make 2 Spacewalks". NBC. December 17, 2008. Retrieved January 8, 2008.
  13. ^ "Astronaut Launches into Texas Tech Doctorate Program". Texas Tech University. May 15, 2012. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
  14. ^ "Astronaut Joe Acaba is a distance learning graduate student in the College of Education". Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  15. ^ a b NASA (September 23, 2004). "Meet NASA's Future Explorer - Joe Acaba". NASA. Archived from the original on October 9, 2006. Retrieved November 26, 2006.
  16. ^ NASA (2007). "NASA Assigns Crew for Final Solar Array Delivery to Station". NASA. Retrieved October 19, 2007.
  17. ^ El Nuevo Dia Archived January 4, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, (Spanish newspaper) Retrieved March 21, 2009
  18. ^ Dunn, Marcia (March 12, 2009). "Boricua a Punto de Abordar El Discovery, Acaba llevara bandera de PR". El Nuevo Dia (in Spanish). Associated Press. Archived from the original on March 12, 2009. Retrieved March 12, 2009.
  19. ^ "Despiertan a Joseph Acabá al ritmo de "Qué bonita bandera"" (in Spanish). Primera Hora (Puerto Rican Newspaper). March 19, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2009.
  20. ^ Mission Accomplished! Archived February 1, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Three New Crew Members En Route to Station". NASA. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
  22. ^ Puerto Rican Astronaut Joins Russians in Space Flight
  23. ^ "Meet the cavenauts – Joe Acaba – Caves & pangaea blog". Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  24. ^ Sauro, Francesco; De Waele, Jo; Payler, Samuel J.; Vattano, Marco; Sauro, Francesco Maria; Turchi, Leonardo; Bessone, Loredana (July 1, 2021). "Speleology as an analogue to space exploration: The ESA CAVES training programme". Acta Astronautica. 184: 150–166. Bibcode:2021AcAau.184..150S. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2021.04.003. hdl:11585/819077. ISSN 0094-5765. S2CID 234819922.
  25. ^ "Explorers: set app to cave mode – Caves & pangaea blog". Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  26. ^ Spacefacts
  27. ^ "Future Expeditions". May 26, 2015.
  28. ^ Whiting, Melanie (October 20, 2017). "Expedition 53 Spacewalk Successfully Comes to an End". NASA. Archived from the original on April 15, 2019. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  29. ^ "Puerto Rican astronaut gets double dose of hurricanes". September 20, 2017. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  30. ^ "Statistics - Joseph Acaba". Retrieved December 24, 2017.
  31. ^ Bardan, Roxana (February 2, 2023). "NASA's Joe Acaba to Serve as Agency's Chief Astronaut". NASA. Retrieved February 2, 2023.
  32. ^ ADENDI Archived March 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ "El Vocero - Invitarán a Joe Acabá a Puerto Rico". Archived from the original on March 29, 2009. Retrieved March 29, 2009.
  34. ^ "Sociedad de Astronomia del Caribe". Archived from the original on September 23, 2017. Retrieved June 12, 2009.
  35. ^ "Despega de nuevo Joseph Acabá". February 8, 2013. Archived from the original on December 25, 2014. Retrieved February 8, 2013.
  36. ^ "Most Influential Puerto Ricans". Caras Magazine/Latin Culture Today. January 8, 2013. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  37. ^ Ivette Romero (January 15, 2013). "The 12 Most Influential Puerto Ricans". Repeating Islands: News and commentary on Caribbean Culture, Literature, and the Arts. Retrieved April 22, 2013.

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