(CBS4) - When it comes to reaching for the stars, Colorado has plenty of hands in the air. Nineteen 19 aerospace companies have a presence in our state and we have our fair share of astronauts who call Colorado home, or have close ties.
Meet our current, active astronauts, including a number who are involved in the project to return to the moon:
Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor was born in Indiana but she considers Fort Collins her home and is a graduate of Poudre High School. She is board certified in Internal and Aerospace Medicine and was selected by NASA in 2009 as a member of the 20th astronaut class.
Auñón-Chancellor served as Flight Engineer on the International Space Station for Expeditions 56 and 57, logging 197 days in space on her first flight.
She arrived at Johnson Space Center in 2006, working as a Flight Surgeon under a contract. She spent more than nine months in Russia as part of the medical operations team for the space station. Auñón-Chancellor has also spent two months in Antarctica searching for meteorites, most of the time she was living on ice 200 nautical miles from the South Pole.
Currently Auñón-Chancellor covers medical issues and on-orbit support in the Astronaut Office.
Nichole Ayers is the newest Coloradan to join the NASA astronaut program. She was selected in December 2021 and reported for duty in January for two years of training. The 32 year old grew up in Colorado Springs and grew up with inspiration in the skies.
"Right there in the Springs we got to see the Thunderbirds over the Air Force Academy every year, so I knew what the Air Force Academy was at a very young age, and you know, serious little Nichole set her sights on being a pilot and going to the Air Force Academy," she told CBS4's Jamie Leary in December 2021.
Ayers is a graduate of the Academy and is a major in the U.S. Air Force. She is one of the few American women who flies the F-22 Raptor and led the first-ever all-woman F-22 formation in combat in 2019.
"The jet is the ultimate equalizer. It doesn't care what gender you are. It just cares what you tell it to do, and fortunately for the young ones like me, we get to stand on the shoulders of giants, you know? The women who have gone before us and kind of paved the way for us."
Dr. Kjell Lindgren is a Colorado-educated astronaut, with a Bachelor of Science degree from the Air Force Academy, a Masters of Science from Colorado State University and a Doctorate of Medicine from the University of Colorado. He was selected by NASA in 2009, making him a classmate of Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor.
He flew on Expedition 44/45, logging 141 days in space. Right now he's training to fly the NASA SpaceX Crew-4 mission set to launch sometime this year. He is also a member of NASA's Artemis Team, which has the ultimate goal of landing on the moon.
Lindgren may call Virginia home but he still finds time to visit Colorado, meeting with patients at at Children's Hospital Colorado in 2018. He told them "It's absolutely beautiful to look down at the Earth (from the space station) and even if you go over the same place a couple of times, it's always different."
Matthew Dominick was born and raised in Wheat Ridge and that's where his parents still live. He was selected by NASA for the 2017 Class and has completed the training and is now eligible for a mission assignment.
Dominick was assigned to the Strike Fighter Squadron 143, deploying twice to the North Arabian Sea to fly air support for Operation Enduring Freedom.
He is one of two Colorado astronauts on the Artemis Team, which is working on the next lunar mission. In 2020 he told CBS4 we've learned a lot about what happens to the human body in lower orbit. "Now the next logical step is to go back to the moon in a sustainable wary. To build the infrastructure to stay, so we can build our moon to Mars program.
Jessica Watkins may have been born in Georgia but she considers Lafayette her hometown and it's the place her parents still live. She joined Matthew Dominick in that 2017 Astronaut Candidate class and is also a member of the Artemis Team.
She has studied the Mars surface processes and conducted research on Mars soil simulant during a NASA internship.
Watkins is currently assigned to fly to space the first time as a Mission Specialist on NASA's SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station this year. That's a mission that could be piloted by Colorado-educated Kjell Lindgren. She will be the first Black woman to join the space station crew for a long-term mission and, as a member of the Artemis Team, there's a potential she could become the first woman and person of color to walk on the moon.
In 2020 she told CBS4, "It's a really exciting time in human space flight. Whoever it is that puts those boots back on the ground and the first woman that does so is going to be super exciting for all of us."
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