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Meet KU grad Loral O’Hara, newly minted NASA astronaut candidate

KU grad selected to join NASA's 2017 astronaut class

Loral O’Hara was selected by NASA to join the 2017 astronaut class. The Texas native earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Kansas and a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Purdu
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Loral O’Hara was selected by NASA to join the 2017 astronaut class. The Texas native earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Kansas and a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Purdu

NASA was slammed with a record number of astronaut applicants this year and out of more than 183,000 people, only 12 were given that proverbial golden ticket.

The deserving dozen includes a Texan and University of Kansas graduate named Loral O’Hara.

“That’s been something that I think we’ve all been dreaming of for ages, just stepping foot on another planet!” O’Hara said after her selection, according to ABC 13 in Houston.

O’Hara will report for training with the Class of 2017 at Johnson Space Center in August.

Here are five quick things to know about this high-flying Jayhawk, who is 34.

1. Texas roots run deep

She was born in Houston and raised in Sugar Land, Texas, where her parents still live. She is only the second Houston native to be chosen for the space program, which is based in her hometown.

“Growing up in Houston, I had Johnson Space Center right down the road and I was able to visit often,” O’Hara said.

“My second-grade class even got to grow tomato plants that flew on the space shuttle, a program that I actually recently just found out is going on today with students flying seeds on the International Space Station.

“Those early experiences really hooked me and are a big part of what ignited the dream to be an astronaut.”

2. Rock Chalk Jayhawk

She earned a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Kansas in 2005. At KU she took propulsion classes and belonged to the rocket club.

She went on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Purdue University in 2009. The Boilermakers enthusiastically claim her as one of their own, too.

Another tie to the Midwest: From 2006 to 2007 she was a project engineer for Rocketplane Limited in Oklahoma City, Okla.

By the way, the first KU alumnus in space was Commander Ron Evans, a Kansas native who graduated from KU with a degree in electrical engineering in 1955. He piloted the command module on Apollo 17.

3. If at first you don’t succeed ...

According to Houston’s ABC 13, O’Hara had applied to be an astronaut twice before.

She’s leaving behind work in that other vast adventure land – the ocean. As a research engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, she creates and builds underwater vehicles used for scientific research and exploration.

4. Surfer and spelunker

Her list of personal interests reflects her self-described curious nature and love for trying and learning new things. Judging by her NASA bio, she apparently doesn’t sit still for very long. She is a private pilot, scuba diver, surfer, sailor, spelunker, painter, certified EMT and wilderness first responder.

She also enjoys working in the garage, traveling, skiing, hiking and reading. Whew.

5. She’ll have to learn Russian

She will spend the next two years training as an astronaut candidate. From the get-go, she’ll learn to speak Russian.

NASA currently flies astronauts to the International Space Station every few months. The official languages of the space station are English and Russian and all crew members, no matter where they are from, have to know both.

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