Indian-origin physician chosen for NASA space missions

Indian-origin physician among 10 chosen as 2021 Astronaut Candidate Class by NASA

Anil Menon, a lieutenant colonel with the US Air Force, was SpaceX’s first flight surgeon, helping launch its first humans to space in NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission

Indian-origin physician Anil Menon. Credit: NASA

Indian-origin physician Anil Menon, a lieutenant colonel with the US Air Force, has been selected by NASA along with nine others as astronauts for future missions, the American space agency has announced.

Menon, 45, was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Ukrainian and Indian immigrants.

He was SpaceX’s first flight surgeon, helping launch the company’s first humans to space during NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission and building a medical organisation to support the human system during future missions.

In a statement, NASA announced that it has chosen 10 new astronaut candidates from a field of over 12,000 applicants to represent the US and work for humanity’s benefit in space.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson introduced the members of the 2021 astronaut class, the first new class in four years, during an event on December 6 at Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“Today, we welcome 10 new explorers, 10 members of the Artemis generation, NASA’s 2021 astronaut candidate class,” Nelson said.

“Alone, each candidate has ‘the right stuff,’ but together they represent the creed of our country: E pluribus unum – out of many, one,” he said.

The astronaut candidates will report for duty at the Johnson centre in January 2022 to begin two years of training.

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Astronaut candidate training falls into five major categories: operating and maintaining the International Space Station's complex systems, training for spacewalks, developing complex robotics skills, safely operating a T-38 training jet, and Russian language skills.

Upon completion, they could be assigned to missions that involve performing research aboard the space station, launching from American soil on spacecraft built by commercial companies, as well as deep space missions to destinations including the moon on NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.

“Each of you has amazing backgrounds,” Pam Melroy, former NASA astronaut and NASA’s deputy administrator, told the candidates. “You bring diversity in so many forms to our astronaut corps and you stepped up to one of the highest and most exciting forms of public service.”

Applicants included US citizens from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

For the first time, NASA required candidates to hold a master’s degree in a STEM field and used an online assessment tool.

Menon previously served NASA as the crew flight surgeon for various expeditions taking astronauts to the International Space Station. He is an actively practising emergency medicine physician with fellowship training in wilderness and aerospace medicine.

As a physician, he was the first responder during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, and the 2011 Reno Air Show accident.

In the Air Force, Menon supported the 45th Space Wing as a flight surgeon and the 173rd Fighter Wing, where he logged over 100 sorties in the F-15 fighter jet and transported over 100 patients as part of the critical care air transport team.

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