USC Alumna, Deniz Burnham, Beats Out 12,000 Applicants to Join NASA’s Newest Astronaut Class

Anish Kelkar | February 15, 2022

Burnham beat out thousands of applicants for the opportunity to train for space missions.

Deniz Burnham

Deniz Burnham. PHOTO/NASA.

Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham, who earned her master’s degree in mechanical engineering at USC Viterbi School of Engineering in 2017, is one of ten people selected in NASA’s latest class of astronaut candidates. While studying at USC, Burnham completed an internship with the NASA Ames Research Center as part of the Deployable Autonomy Technologies group.

In an interview for the Launch Pad, Burnham said that she was emotional when she found out that she had been selected. She dreamed of being an astronaut since she was a child and was inspired by her family.

“My grandfather loves telescopes and just astronomy in general. He’s kind of self-taught and getting to see Mars and the rings of Saturn, the size of your pinky nail, in the backyard telescope really touched my heart differently,” Burnham said.

According to NASA, Burnham started her career as a field engineer on oil rigs in Alaska, and has since spent more than a decade in the energy industry where she managed drilling optimization projects and emission reduction strategies for drilling rigs. She believes that her past experiences will help her be a better astronaut.

“Working in the oil industry, I actually spent a year in Canada working on [oil] rigs. I was a company man, so I got to run the operations that in and of itself was very challenging,” Burnham said in the interview at The Launch Pad, “but getting to take the experiences and lessons learned from that fast-paced operational environments really set me up for success to be a value-adding team member at NASA.”

When asked about which training activities she is most excited about, Burnham said “I am super excited about the T-38s, I think that’ll be a lot of fun and good team building opportunity as well,” and she added “I hear the neutral buoyancy lab can be pretty challenging so getting to learn the space walking- I’m very excited about that.”

When asked on The Launch Pad podcast what message she would give to the next generation of potential astronauts, Burnham replied, “dream big, it’s okay to set yourself some goals, pursue what you’re interested in and you’ll excel at it,” and added that the younger generation could draw inspiration from the latest astronaut class, “you can see what different paths we took to get here [and] it’s so important that you seek out your passions, whether or not it’s to become an astronaut…everyone has a place in space.”

The new astronaut candidates will report for duty in January 2022 to complete two years of initial NASA astronaut training, according to NASA. Upon completion of her training, Burnham could be assigned to missions such as research aboard the space station, launching from American soil on spacecraft built by commercial companies, or deep space missions to destinations including the Moon.

Published on February 15th, 2022

Last updated on February 15th, 2022

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