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Graduate of UC San Diego, USC tapped for astronaut training as NASA eyes return to moon

Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham
Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham
(NASA)

NASA this week chose a graduate of UC San Diego and USC to train to become an astronaut, a decision that comes as the space agency is preparing to send humans back to the moon, possibly as early as 2025.

Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham, a reservist, was one of 10 people selected for astronaut training out of more than 12,000 applicants.

If she succeeds, Burnham will become the latest in a series of UC San Diego graduates who have become astronauts, three of whom have served on the International Space Station over the last 18 months.

Burnham, 36, earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at UC San Diego in 2007. She did internships at local biotech companies that focused on her interest in alternative energy. Burnham went on to earn a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from USC in 2017.

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No humans have walked on the moon since 1972, when the Apollo 17 crew left the lunar surface.

NASA says that Burnham, who lives in Alaska, has worked in the energy industry for more than a decade, often to improve the operation of oil rigs. Burnham, whose work has taken her from the Arctic to Canada and across the U.S., began as a field engineer and rose to become the lead operator of rigs.

The space agency says Burnham’s recent work in the Navy Reserve has included serving as executive officer of SurgeMain Alameda, a Naval Sea Systems Command in Alameda.

She flies everything from seaplanes to helicopters to paragliders.

“From a very young age, I had a true love of aviation,” Burnham told the podcast “Mayhem” in 2019. “I would draw like little pictures of helicopters. I started flying when I was 17. I got a taste of it and knew I loved it.”

Three other UC San Diego graduates — Megan McArthur, Kate Rubins and Jessica Meir — are part of NASA’s astronaut corps and have all served on the space station. McArthur was the last to do so, returning from the orbiting outpost in November.

For many years, the UC San Diego faculty included Sally Ride, who in 1983 became the first American woman to travel in space when she went aloft in the space shuttle Challenger. She died of cancer in La Jolla in 2012.


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