From Foggy Bottom to the Final Frontier

GW School of Engineering and Applied Science alumnus Andre Douglas, Ph.D. ’21, has completed NASA’s astronaut training program.

June 19, 2024

Douglas Andre

GW alumnus Andre Douglas was selected to join NASA’s 2021 astronaut candidate class.

George Washington University alumnus Andre Douglas, Ph.D. ’21, was selected to join NASA’s 2021 astronaut candidate class, at the time the first new class of astronauts announced in four years. He successfully completed the rigorous two-year training program earlier this year and is now preparing for his first mission to outer space.

The Virginia native earned a doctorate in systems engineering from the GW School of Engineering and Applied Science. He also has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, two master’s degrees from the University of Michigan, and a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

Most recently Douglas worked as a senior staff member at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, working on maritime robotics, planetary defense and space exploration missions for NASA. He previously served in the U.S. Coast Guard as a naval architect, salvage engineer, damage control assistant and officer of the deck.

Read more about Douglas:

When did you know you wanted to be an astronaut?

It’s been in the back of my mind ever since I was a kid and my mom told me what an astronaut was and what they did. Once I started to understand that there’s another celestial body, millions and billions of miles away, I was like, “Man, I want to understand our universe more. I want to understand what’s out there.” So as I went throughout my studies, it’s always been kind of the carrot on the stick.

How did it feel to be one of 10 new astronaut candidates from a field of more than 12,000 applicants?

It’s like hitting the lottery to some extent because the odds are just insane. But at the same time, for somebody like me who’s accomplished every goal I’ve set, it wasn’t crazy; it was just like, “OK, this was part of the plan.”

Tell me more about the some of the training you underwent.

We were sent to Naval Air Station Pensacola for flight training, which was another dream come true because I love “Top Gun.” We did an accelerated primary syllabus, meaning we did a year to year-and-a-half long flight training process within three months, so you had to learn fast. And it’s exactly what the Navy goes through: flight training, water survival, ejection exercises, all of that. There's a dunk chamber where you have to go underwater, flip upside down and unbuckle yourself all while blindfolded. Then you need to climb over your seats and out the window while not panicking and make sure that you can then fly. It's like the rite of passage.

What accomplishment are you most proud of, personally or professionally, and why?

There’s been many specific technical things that I’ve done that have been great, but the thing that I’ve been most proud of is that I’ve been able to do everything that I’ve done on my resume while also having a pretty awesome and wonderful family. When I was in my 20s, I thought, “This astronaut thing is really hard to do. I don't know if I'll have time [to have a family.]” But then I met my wife, Rachel, and we’ve been able to balance it all. We have both our dream jobs and two beautiful young boys. Sometimes I feel like, “Man, am I dreaming? Do I need to pinch myself?”

Was there a standout course or professor at GW that helped you get to where you are today?

Dr. [Thomas] Mazzuchi and Dr. [Shahram] Sarkani really pushed me to figure out how to get to novel problem solution. I have many other master’s and bachelor’s degrees, but when it came to the doctorate, it was, “How are you bringing something new to the industry in systems engineering?” They were very adamant about making sure what we have is novel and is going to get published so we can add to the body of knowledge systems engineering, which is very new compared to a lot of the other types of engineering. And that research methodology is very helpful for me now as I'm trying to solve real-time problems here at NASA.

What is a piece of advice you would offer to students seeking to pursue your field of work?

At NASA we’re trying to do science to better humankind, so you can do that from a few different angles. But when it comes to being an astronaut, having an engineering background has been very helpful, because we’re always trying to figure things out and solve problems and develop. And then on top of those skills, it’s also good to be a very team-oriented and adaptable person.