Indian-American selected to NASA’s 2021 astronaut class


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has chosen an Indian-American astronaut for its future missions. Among the 10 new astronaut candidates selected, is 45-year-old Anil Menon, a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force, according to the NASA website. NASA administrator Bill Nelson introduced the 2021 astronaut class to the world during an event at Ellington Field near Johnson Space Center in Houston on December 6.

Menon was SpaceX’s first flight surgeon, who helped prepare company’s first human flights and built a medical organization to support the human system during future missions. Before that, he served NASA as the crew flight surgeon for various expeditions on the International Space Station.

Born in Minneapolis to Indian and Ukrainian parents, Menon is a Harvard University graduate in neurobiology and did his Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford. He is married to Anna Menon, who works at SpaceX as the lead space operations engineer. They have two children.

At Harvard, Menon studied neurobiology and conducted research on Huntington’s disease. He later spent a year in India as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar to study and support Polio vaccination. At Stanford Medical School, 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 was deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom and worked for the Himalayan Rescue Association to care for climbers on Mount Everest.

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

The candidate astronauts will report for duty next month at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and begin two years of training. The other nine astronaut candidates are US Air Force Major Nichole Ayers, US Air Force Maj. Marcos Berrios, US Marine Corps Maj. (retired.) Luke Delaney, US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Wittner, US Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham, US Navy Cmdr. Jack Hathaway, Christopher Williams, Christina Birch and Andre Douglas.

After completing their training, the candidates will be assigned to missions that involve performing research aboard the space station as well as deep space missions to destinations including the moon, on NASA’s Orion Spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.