You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32


The Puerto Rican Astronaut
Joseph Michael "Joe" Acaba (born May 17, 1967)
Ralph Acaba will never forget the day his son Joe called to let him know his life had astronomically changed. "He called me at work, so I answered as I used to do, 'Hi, this is Ralph,' and my job title," said the father, who was a private-school administrator. "He said, 'Hi, this is Joe, astronaut.' There are very few things in life that one remembers forever."

I'm very proud to represent the Puerto Rican community," Acaba said during a recent interview. "Traditionally, there is a barbecue with the astronauts' families and we will see him on that day," he said. "But we have to remember that they are in quarantine and we have to pass a physical exam before meeting with him for an hour." Joe Acaba, ex-Marine, ex-Peace Corps volunteer and a former math and science teacher at Brevard's Melbourne High and Dunnellon Middle School in Marion County, was one of three teachers chosen by NASA in May 2004 to become astronauts. He moved to Houston to sit in a classroom, this time as a student. He learned to use the shuttle's robotic arm and trained for the two spacewalks made during the Discovery mission.

When he traveled to his parents' homeland of Puerto Rico, Acaba was received like a celebrity, recognized by the Puerto Rican House of Representatives. He also met with students. "I was very surprised with all the love people showed to him, especially the students who were in their teens," said Ralph, who accompanied his son. "The girls received him as if he was a rock star." Discovery was set to fly a truss segment to the international space station and install its final set of power-generating solar arrays. "I can't even begin to realize how cool it's going to be and what it is going to feel like," Acaba said.

"The one thing I hear from all the experienced fliers is, 'Don't forget to take a moment and look out the window, take a moment to enjoy it . . . Otherwise, you can be up there for 14 days and the next thing you know, you are coming home without having had a chance to enjoy it.' "Back on Earth, in his parent's house in Anaheim, Calif., where he was raised, he's the middle child. When the siblings get together -- Ralph, Richard, Joe, and Cynthia, -- the dynamic is rather typical. "We treat him like a son, like a brother. His chore is to take out the trash and he does it without any problems," Ralph Acaba said. The family is well aware of the risk of shuttle missions.

That week marked the 23rd anniversary of the breakup of Challenger, 73 seconds after it was launched Jan. 28, 1986, killing the first teacher/astronaut, Christa McAuliffe, and her six fellow crew members. Ralph Acaba said he trusted his son's training as well as NASA's professionalism. And he and his wife are people of faith.

Joe Acaba's aunt, Irma Carrasquillo of Fort Lauderdale, also prays every day for her nephew. She is Elsie's younger sister. "We call each other every night for support," she said. "We are kind of anxious about the trip, but we have faith in God that everything is going to be all right." Joe Acaba knows the space program's future is uncertain -- the shuttle was scheduled to be retired next year -- but he knew where he was headed after NASA. "When I started teaching I knew that was the job that I wanted to do," he said. "I think I will definitely head back to the classroom and like all teachers you become more valuable when you share your personal experiences with students, and I think I will have some neat stories to tell and maybe some interesting ways to keep them motivated and want to learn a little bit."

About the Boricua Astronaut
Joseph Michael "Joe" Acaba (born May 17, 1967) is an educator, hydrogeologist, and NASA astronaut.

He's also a Mission Specialist-Educator, but even if he had not told them about his big news, Joe Acaba's students in Dunnellon, Fla. would have known something was up.

"When I found out I'd been chosen for astronaut training, I cut my long hair," Acaba says. "It's made me the butt of a lot of jokes at school."

Dunnellon Middle School, where Acaba teaches 7th and 8th grade science and math, has been abuzz since he got word of his new mission. When he reports to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, he will be one of three educator astronaut candidates, training right alongside pilots, engineers, and researchers to be fully-trained, permanent members of the astronaut corps.

"I've always been intrigued by space travel," Acaba says. "My parents started me at a young age with 8mm films of the first man on the moon."

"Both of my parents were born in Puerto Rico. My dad moved to the States when he was about 10 and my mother moved when she was about 18. My dad is my hero. He came to the States with very little and worked hard to make sure we had what we needed," Acaba says. "He instilled a real work ethic in me."

That work ethic has helped Acaba earn two degrees in geology. He earned a Bachelor's degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a Master's degree from the University of Arizona. After working as a hydrogeologist -- someone who studies water that is under ground -- Acaba spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, teaching the people about the environment. "Once I did that, I knew that education was what I wanted to do. The only job that could take me away from teaching is being an astronaut," he says. "Being an educator astronaut is the best of both worlds."

JOE ACABA, Mission Specialist-Educator
BORN: Inglewood, California
EDUCATION: BS, Geology, University of California-Santa Barbara, 1990; MS, Geology, University of Arizona, 1992
QUICK FACT: Volunteered for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic
QUOTE: "When I found out I'd been chosen for astronaut training, I cut my long hair. It's made me the butt of a lot of jokes at school."

Joe Acaba has been an educator born in Inglewood, California and raised in Anaheim along with two older brothers and a younger sister. He now has three children of his own. He says that as an educator astronaut, he hopes to reach out to minority students.

A science-fiction buff, Acaba is thrilled by the new Vision for Space Exploration and NASA's goals of returning humans to the moon and eventually continuing on to Mars. "It's something that's only been written about in books, but it's going to become a reality soon.

"As an educator, I think the most important thing for me is to fulfill the goal of inspiring the next generation. Motivating kids to learn is as important as the subject matter," he says.


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