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Blast off! Four members of NASA’s new class of astronauts have New England ties

The 10 candidates, pictured here at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston are (from left to right): Nichole Ayers, Christopher Williams, Luke Delaney, Jessica Wittner, Anil Menon, Marcos Berríos, Jack Hathaway, Christina Birch, Deniz Burnham, and Andre Douglas.ROBERT MARKOWITZ NASA-JSC

Nearly half of NASA’s new class of astronauts has New England ties.

The 10 members of the 2021 astronaut class were announced Monday at an event at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center in Houston. They’re set to begin their two years of training in January, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

After that, the world — or more fittingly, space — is their oyster, with a whole host of different missions they could be sent on, NASA said in a statement.

The class of astronauts was selected from among 12,000 candidates and is the first class in four years. Four of the 10 astronauts have ties to New England: Marcos Berríos, 37, Christina Birch, 35, Jack Hathaway, 39, and Christopher Williams, 38.


Berríos, an Air Force major, grew up in Puerto Rico and graduated with his bachelor’s from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to NASA.

While he’s excited for “any mission that [he] can be assigned to,” Berríos pitched the idea of scaling up the Mars Ingenuity helicopter to become a two-seater.

“I know Deniz [Burnham], the other helicopter pilot here, and I would love to take it for a spin — for science, of course,” he said during the event, referring to another member of the astronaut class.

Birch earned her doctorate in biological engineering from MIT. She said that her background as a bioengineer and a pro cyclist shows that there isn’t one path to becoming an astronaut.

“My advice would be to find something that you’re really interested in, really curious about, passionate about, and explore that deeply,” Birch said during the event. “And I think if you approach every day trying to do the little things well, they will add up to something really big and that might be sitting here someday as a NASA astronaut candidate.”


Hathaway, a commander in the Navy, is a Connecticut native. He also completed his graduate studies at both Cranfield University in England and the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, according to NASA.

When asked what excites him most about human spaceflight now, Hathaway said that he’s “excited about it all.”

“Who knows where we’re going to be in five, 10, or 15 years because technology is changing so quickly,” Hathaway said during the event. “There’s so much support for the space program out there right now that we really can do anything in the amount of time that we have.”

Williams received his doctorate from MIT. He is a board-certified medical physicist, and he was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, where he completed his residency.

Most recently, Williams worked as a medical physicist in the Radiation Oncology Department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, according to NASA.

“While it’s a little bit bittersweet to leave the incredible team that I worked with at the hospital, I’m just honored and incredibly excited to join the NASA team and these wonderful people to push human spaceflight forward,” Williams said during the event.

Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her @breannekovatch.