Alumni / Fall 2017

DU engineering grad is part of NASA’s new crop of astronauts

“I think it’s important for mankind to push boundaries and explore. Exploration is naturally coursing through our veins,” says Robb Kulin. Photo courtesy of NASA

“Star Trek” had Kirk, Picard and Spock. Now NASA has Robb Kulin (BS ’04), a University of Denver alumnus who is one of 12 out of more than 18,000 applicants to be selected for the 2017 astronaut candidate program.

While his future missions may include seeking out new life and new civilizations, for now, Kulin will remain grounded as he completes two years of training in Houston.

During that time, he’ll travel to various centers across the U.S. and around the world to prepare for the challenges ahead and to become familiar with international partners. Kulin will undergo survival and medical training, spacewalk training, jet training and more.

Kulin’s career path to becoming an astronaut didn’t stem from a childhood love for sci-fi shows, comic books or backyard science experiments. Rather, it came from his longtime interest in exploration, which was sparked further while he was studying mechanical engineering at DU’s Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“I actually wasn’t interested in space as a child, but my eyes were opened up to the possibility of a career in space while doing a report on the loss of the space shuttle Columbia while I was at DU,” Kulin says. “I have always had a strong interest in exploration, and although [it was] an extremely awful event, it opened up my eyes to space as the next great frontier for exploration.”

Being an astronaut is difficult and takes special skills. But going through the application process is no walk in the park either — or on the moon, for that matter.

Initially, Kulin says, astronaut applicants submit a resumé and general application form. Thousands of these are then vetted by NASA astronauts and support staff. The pool is eventually narrowed to 120; that group is brought in for three days of basic medical reviews and interviews.

That done, the group is whittled to 50 finalists for an unknown number of positions. Those finalists come in for a week of intensive interviews, including medical, psychological and skill set evaluations.

“The interviews are an extremely rewarding process where you are fortunate enough to meet and stay with astronaut hopefuls being interviewed that week,” says Kulin, who also went through the process in 2013, when only 6,000 applicants were vying for the opportunity. “You tend to make friendships that can last for many years.”

Kulin believes mankind will experience a multiplanetary existence within this century, but he also stresses the importance of improving life on Earth. And since the first flight to space for recent candidate classes won’t happen for five to 10 years, he has plenty of time to contribute. In the meantime, Kulin says he’d be “psyched” to go wherever NASA sends him.

“I think it’s important for mankind to push boundaries and explore. Exploration is naturally coursing through our veins, and I think the two biggest physical frontiers at this point are deep-sea exploration and space exploration,” says Kulin, who spent nearly seven years at SpaceX before going to NASA. He worked as structural designer and analyst on the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket, developed operations for upcoming space launch vehicles like the Falcon Heavy, and worked in the launch department helping to improve Falcon 9 processing operations at the launch site.

“Exploration also continually pushes humanity to learn, adapt and improve — and with our increased perspective on the fragility of planet Earth, it is important we start pushing beyond,” he continues. “I figured that even if I never fly in space, I would like to be part of making space exploration possible.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *