Indian American Anil Menon chosen as NASA astronaut candidate

Anil Menon

Menon helped SpaceX launch its first humans to space and in building a medical support system for future missions

Anil Menon, an Indian American US Air Force officer who as SpaceX’s first flight surgeon helped launch the company’s first humans to space, has been chosen as one of NASA 10 new astronaut candidates.

Lt. Col. Menon, 45, son of Ukrainian and Indian immigrants, also helped SpaceX in building a medical organization to support the human system during future missions.

“Today we welcome 10 new explorers, 10 members of the Artemis generation, NASA’s 2021 astronaut candidate class,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said introducing the 2021 astronaut class at an event in Houston Monday.

Read: Indian American astronaut Raja Chari reaches Space Station (November 12, 2021)

“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 of the first new class in four years, selected from a field of more than 12,000 applicants.

Menon and other astronaut candidates will report for duty at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in January 2022 to begin two years of training, according to a NASA press release.

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.

With the addition of these 10 members of the 2021 astronaut candidate class, NASA now has selected 360 astronauts since the original Mercury Seven in 1959.

“We’ve made many giant leaps throughout the last 60 years, fulfilling President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon,” said Johnson center Director Vanessa Wyche.

“Today we reach further into the stars as we push forward to the Moon once again and on to Mars with NASA’s newest astronaut candidate class.”

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

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Menon previously served NASA as the crew flight surgeon for various expeditions taking astronauts to the International Space Station.

Menon is an actively practicing emergency medicine physician with fellowship training in wilderness and aerospace medicine, according to his official bio.

As a physician, he was a first responder during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, 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.

Menon is married to Anna Menon who works at SpaceX, and they have two children. Menon enjoys teaching general aviation as a certified flight instructor and has logged over 1,000 hours as a pilot. He enjoys endurance races such as Ironman and Kokoro and backpacking with his family.

Menon studied neurobiology and conducted research on Huntington’s disease at Harvard. He later spent a year in India as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar to study and support Polio vaccination.

He attended Stanford Medical School where he studied engineering and medicine and worked on coding soft tissue models at NASA Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley, California.

During his residency training in emergency medicine, Menon joined the California Air National Guard and gained experience in wilderness medicine through support for remote adventure races like Racing The Planet.

Following his residency, he deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom and worked for the Himalayan Rescue Association to care for climbers on Mount Everest.

In 2018, Menon joined SpaceX where he started its medical program and helped prepare for the company’s first human flights.

He served as the lead flight surgeon for five launches and helped start their research program, private astronaut programs, and worked on development of the Starship.

Menon started as a NASA flight surgeon in 2014. He supported four long-duration crew members on the International Space Station as the deputy crew surgeon for Soyuz missions Soyuz 39 and Soyuz 43 and prime crew surgeon for Soyuz 52.

Read: Indian origin physician Anil Menon among 10 new NASA astronaut recruits (December 7, 2021)

As a member of the Human Health and Performance Directorate, he also served as the medical lead for the health maintenance system and direct return aircraft development. He lived and worked in Star City, Russia, for more than six months.

Menon has received several awards and honors including Theodore Lyster Award, SpaceX “Kick-Ass” Award and NASA JSC Group Achievement award for Expedition 45 Medical Team.

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