Jessica Wittner was selected by NASA to join the 2021 Astronaut Candidate Class. She reports for duty in January 2022. She previously had a distinguished career serving on active duty as a U.S. naval aviator and test pilot. A California native, she holds a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering from the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a master’s in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. Wittner was commissioned as a naval officer through an enlisted-to-officer commissioning program, and has served operationally flying F/A-18s with VFA-34 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and VFA-151 in Lemoore, California. A graduate of U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, she also worked as a test pilot and project officer with VX-31 in China Lake, California.
Naval Postgraduate School alumna Lt. Cmdr Jessica Wittner, MS in Aerospace Engineering '18, was recently selected by NASA to join the 2021 Astronaut Candidate Class and reports for duty in January 2022. NPS' Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Chair, Dr. Garth Hobson, Associate Professor Dr. Chris Brophy, and former NASA astronaut, Space Systems Academic Group Chair, Dr. Jim Newman, recently had the chance to congratulate Wittner and learn about her path to where she is and her aspirations for the future.
Growing up not far from the Naval Postgraduate School, Wittner always dreamt of becoming an astronaut. Working on motorcycles with her dad as a child led to an early interest in engineering and the curiosity of always wanting to know how and why things work the way they do. Wittner's grandfather, a career Navy submariner, ignited her interest in joining the Navy. Wittner enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2001 as an aviation machinist mate, where she worked as an aircraft mechanic before acceptance in the Navy's Seaman-to-Admiral-21 Commissioning Program in 2006. She earned her commission after graduating from the University of Arizona in 2009. She then attended U.S. Navy flight training and earned her wings in 2011. Wittner has served operationally flying F/A-18s with VFA-34 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and VFA-151 in Lemoore, California. A graduate of U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, she worked as a test pilot and project officer with VX-31 in China Lake, California.
Wittner earned her master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School while working as a test pilot for the Navy. "Those two things combined, working through and developing new systems and gaining an understanding of the background of why these systems are the way they are, through [NPS], made it real for me." Wittner continued, "after I finished my test pilot tour and graduated from the Navy Postgraduate School, I put my name in the hat for this job, and here I am."
The 2021 NASA Astronaut class consists of 10 astronaut candidates selected from a field of more than 12,000 applicants. Upon completing a two-year training program, they will be assigned to missions including research aboard the International Space Station (ISS), launching on commercial spacecraft as a part of a commercial-government collaboration, and deep space missions to destinations including the Moon. When asked about her future aspirations with NASA, Wittner remarked that any one of the assignments would make her happy. "Not only are we doing the ISS work with our international partners, but NASA is also proceeding on the Artemis Missions to the Moon and eventually Mars. There are so many exciting things to be a part of."
Wittner's message to the NPS community is to always keep moving forward:
"Regardless of what your goal is, you work hard and you make the best of the opportunities that are given to you, like the great opportunities at NPS. If you do those things, you can get where you want to go."