Among the 12 candidates NASA has selected for the astronaut class of 2017 is one adventurous SpaceX employee who's eager to fly to the moon, Mars and beyond.
Robb Kulin is a 33-year-old engineer from Anchorage, Alaska, who has spent the past 6 and a half years working as the senior manager for flight reliability at the private spaceflight company SpaceX. Before that, he worked as an ice driller in Antarctica.
Now, Kulin is ready to take on the final frontier as part of NASA's newest group of astronauts, who will be selected to fly to the International Space Station and eventually on deep-space missions with NASA's new Orion spacecraft, which is slated to launch as soon as 2019 on the new Space Launch System rocket. But first, the astronauts will complete two years of training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. [What It's Like to Become an Astronaut: 10 Surprising Facts]
Space.com spoke with Kulin about his journey to becoming an astronaut and all of the cool adventures that await.
While many kids dream of becoming astronauts one day, Kulin said he didn't become interested in trying out a career in spaceflight until he was in graduate school, when he and his friend watched NASA's space shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"While we were at one of the launches, a friend of a friend said, 'Hey, let's go check out the launchpad that my company, SpaceX, is building out at Launch Complex 40,'" located nearby at Cape Canaveral, Kulin said.
"When I went there, I really wasn't interested in SpaceX at all," he said. "I'd kind of laughed at some of the Falcon 1 anomalies and didn't really understand what they were trying to accomplish. But once I went there and met some of the other engineers working on building this pad — how energetic they were, the great responsibility that they were given and the hands-on work that they got to do — they really inspired me to want to fly."
After applying several times, Kulin finally got hired by SpaceX. Then, about five years later, Kulin applied to NASA's astronaut corps, along with a record-breaking 18,300 other applicants. Defying great odds, Kulin and 11 others were selected for the new group of astronaut candidates.
While he said that going to the moon would be "really cool," Kulin thinks that it's important for humanity to push for bigger goals, like landing on Mars and becoming an interplanetary species. "I think it would be pretty radical to see humanity colonize Mars someday," he said.
"There's a lot to be learned even about our own planet here on Earth by going out and exploring other places and having that kind of ability to reflect back," Kulin added. "But I actually think Mars will be kind of the most incredible next journey for the human exploration side."
Back when he was a kid, Kulin may not have aspired to become an astronaut, but he does have some words of advice for any ambitious kids who hope to blast off into space one day. "You've got to be into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, of course," he said. "But at the end of the day, find something you're really passionate about — jump on it, enjoy it.
"Find the thing that you're superpsyched on, go do it, do it with enthusiasm and have a blast," Kulin added. "Because that's how you're going to enjoy life the most — whether or not you become an astronaut — and you're going to be the most successful."