Astronaut candidate Robb Kulin has become the first NASA astronaut-in-training to leave midway through the process in 50 years, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
According to the AP report, Kulin recently decided to leave his training at Houston’s Johnson Space Center with an effective termination date of Friday. NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean characterized Kulin’s departure to the news agency as for personal reasons that cannot be disclosed due to privacy reasons. There hasn’t been a similar departure of an astronaut from NASA’s training program since 1968.
Kulin, who hails from Anchorage, Alaska, holds a master’s degree in materials science and doctorate in engineering. He formerly worked as a senior manager for flight reliability for aeronautics giant SpaceX before he was chosen out of a pool of over 18,300 applicants to become one of the 12 members of NASA’s class of 2017. At SpaceX, he worked on the Falcon 9 rocket expected to eventually carry astronauts to the International Space Station on the company’s still-in-development Crew Dragon capsule. According to the AP, Kulin’s career also included stretches as a commercial fisherman and ice driller. (He’s also reportedly a fan of Kerbal Space Program, a spaceflight simulation game.)
As Space.com noted, the astronaut training program is incredibly intensive and requires trainees to become certified in everything from SCUBA diving and the Russian language to robotics and flight systems:
Astronaut candidates are required to complete military water survival and become SCUBA qualified to prepare them for their extravehicular activity (EVA) training.
... Astronaut candidates, or “ascans,” are required to complete International Space Station systems training, EVA and robotics skills training, Russian language proficiency and aircraft flight readiness training before being eligible for spaceflight assignments.
According to Ars Technica, space historian and CollectSpace editor Robert Pearlman said that the astronaut who left the program in 1968, chemist John Llewellyn, decided he was not progressing fast enough in his training to fly jet planes. However, there’s no evidence that Kulin’s departure has anything to do with a failure to meet qualifications. Those astronauts that do pass the program usually wait years for their first flight assignments, and some never end up flying at all.
Per USA Today, NASA does not expect to replace Kulin with another applicant. The 11 other members of the class of 2017 are still in training and 39 active astronauts on NASA’s roster remain eligible for missions.