‘Find a passion and stay the course’: Burnham joins newest group of astronauts

From the Last Frontier to the Final Frontier.

For many, a lifelong dream could be something like creating beautiful art or traveling the wide world; for others, it’s sitting atop a rocket as carries them aloft into the ever-sprawling space that surrounds our tiny blue world.

Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham falls into the latter, which is fortunate, given her recent selection by NASA as one of the new class of 10 astronaut candidates to be part of NASA Astronaut Group 23 in January.

“I’m still a bit shocked. I’m so honored to be joining this team,” said Burnham in an interview. “It was a childhood dream to be part of NASA.”

Burnham, whose dad came from Fairbanks but was herself born on a military base overseas, has spent the last 10 years in Alaska, involved in the oil industry. Burnham’s passion from space came from looking through a telescope at the planets in our solar system with her grandfather, Burnham said.

“This was not my first application. I applied three times,” Burnham said. “I always applied for the astronaut position. I’ve believed in their mission since I was a little kid.”

Burnham was one of 10 candidates selected out of 12,000 applicants, according to NASA. This isn’t Burnham’s first contact with the space agency; she formerly interned at their Ames Research Center in California, according to her official NASA biography. This, along with her experience in the drilling industry and Navy Reserves all make for good experience for an astronaut, Burnham said — working in a fast-paced, mechanical-heavy environment in harsh conditions and confined living space is all going to be a useful experience for an astronaut. Burnham also got her aircraft instrument rating and was certified to fly helicopters while living in Alaska.

“I hope others can see, all the 10 candidates have different backgrounds,” Burnham said. “There’s no set path.”

Following her selection for the astronaut program, Burnham and nine other candidates from across the country will report to NASA in January to begin a two-year course of instruction in a variety of subjects from flying the T-38 Talon supersonic trainer, neutral-buoyancy operations, familiarization with operations aboard the International Space Station, and Russian-language proficiency, Burnham said.

Once the course is completed, she and the other candidates will join the roster of active astronauts, in a time when NASA is looking at operating manned missions further from Earth than it has in decades: the moon. NASA’s Artemis program is intended to return astronauts to the moon and to establish long-term, stable operations there.

“I think it’s incredible. It’s so hard to think about,” Burnham said. “NASA”s intention is to go back to stay.”

For others with an interest in working for NASA, Burnham said, passion and consistency is key. People come to the organization from all walks of life.

“Number one, even if your job is not to be an astronaut, there’s space for anyone,” Burnham said. “Find a passion and stay the course. Don’t give up.”

Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.