August 28, 2018
Robb Kulin was on a break from his console at SpaceX’s Launch Control Center last year when he received a phone call from NASA welcoming him into the agency’s newest Astronaut class.

The selection gave Kulin, who then led SpaceX’s Launch Chief Engineering group for flight reliability, the opportunity to one day fly atop a Falcon 9 rocket he had helped design and build.
“If we could really try to help people realize that borders are something that we create, and they’re not natural, I think we would just make the world a better place,” Kulin, then 33, said during a June 2017 press conference introducing a dozen astronaut candidates, or ASCANs.
But in a very rare move, Kulin has turned in his NASA-issued blue jumpsuit, just a year into the two-year training program the astronaut candidates must complete before being eligible for flight assignments.
NASA this week confirmed that Kulin has resigned, effective Aug. 31, citing “personal reasons.”
Kulin, whose resignation was first reported by the Houston Chronicle, so far has not commented publicly on Facebook or Twitter.
It was the first time in 50 years that an astronaut candidate has resigned, according to Robert Pearlman, editor of CollectSpace.com.
Kulin and his classmates were selected from more than 18,300 applicants, and publicly introduced last year at Johnson Space Center in Houston by Vice President Mike Pence.
Astronaut candidate resigns from NASA for first time in 50 years
Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Kulin earned a master's degree in materials science and doctorate in engineering, studying bone fractures. He had previously worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and as a technician drilling ice cores in Antarctica to support climate research.
He started working at SpaceX headquarters in California in 2011, working on the first upgrade of the Falcon 9 rocket. He later helped investigate a Falcon 9 failure.
"My whole goal coming out of that, and I would say the team’s whole goal, was to make sure that the Falcon 9 was as reliable and successful as possible, for SpaceX’s commercial partners, but also of course very importantly for the crew that will fly on that vehicle," he said last year. "It’s something just that helped us grow stronger and me grow stronger as an engineer."
SpaceX says it within months of launching a Falcon 9 carrying a Crew Dragon capsule from Kennedy Space Center on a first test flight without anyone on board. That could be followed by a crewed test flight to the International Space Station next spring.
SpaceX did not comment on Kulin's departure from NASA.
NASA said Kulin would not be replaced by a new astronaut candidate.
As trainees, astronaut candidates study International Space Station systems, spacewalking techniques, robotics skills, and aircraft flight readiness using two-person T-38 jets. They also receive Russian language training, necessary to serve on a space station expedition.
The candidates also must complete military water survival training before beginning their flying program, pass a swimming test, and become qualified SCUBA divers to practice spacewalks in Johnson Space Center's giant swimming pool, officially called the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which simulates working in microgravity.
Asked in a NASA interview what he would bring to Mars, Kulin, who grew up ski racing, said "skis."
Kulin recalled as a boy reading about great ocean explorers, and feeling as if I had missed his time.
"But once I realized kind of what space was, I realized that was actually the place that I wanted to go," he said. "It’s probably one of the remaining frontiers for exploration and to try to push the limits of mankind."
The advice he said he'd give students was to focus not on getting high marks on tests, but on building "that great foundation of understanding, which is the important part, and it really helps later on in life."
Kulin was at Cape Canaveral preparing for a SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station last year when he took a break, stepped away from his console and his phone rang. It was NASA's astronaut office offering him a job.
"Pretty awesome moment," he told NASA.
Kulin's last official Twitter messages as an astronaut candidate came April 30 and May 1 during a visit to the Space Coast. He said it was "incredible to be back at the cape" to see the "awesome work" of his former SpaceX colleagues, linking to a photo that is no longer available.
NASA's remaining astronaut candidates from Kulin's class are Kayla Barron, Zena Cardman, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Bob Hines, Warren Hoburg, Jonny Kim, Jasmin Moghbeli, Loral O'Hara, Frank Rubio and Jessica Watkins.
In addition, NASA lists 39 active astronauts eligible for flight assignments.
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