NASA astronauts learning, training and inspiring on Fort Novosel

By Brittany Trumbull, Fort Novosel Public AffairsJanuary 30, 2024

(Pictured from left to right) British Army Capt. Dylan Wallace, NASA Astronaut Col. Nicole Mann, NASA Astronaut Candidate Luke Delaney, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stevenson Trumbull and DAC Casey Nixon work together at the Fort Novosel AH-64E simulator facility on Jan. 26.
(Pictured from left to right) British Army Capt. Dylan Wallace, NASA Astronaut Col. Nicole Mann, NASA Astronaut Candidate Luke Delaney, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stevenson Trumbull and DAC Casey Nixon work together at the Fort Novosel AH-64E simulator facility on Jan. 26. (Photo Credit: Brittany Trumbull) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT NOVOSEL, Ala. --Walking around post lately if you notice an aviator’s patch that looks out of this world, you aren’t imagining things. Those blue circle patches are, in fact, the real deal. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has found learning opportunities for its future programs in southern Alabama. Several groups of astronauts and astronaut candidates have visited the Home of Army Aviation recently, specifically the aircraft and simulators, to learn rotary wing systems that can only be found inside the gates of Fort Novosel.

NASA Astronaut and US Marine Corps Col. Nicole Mann and NASA Astronaut Candidate and retired US Marine Corps Maj. Luke Delaney recently visited the AH-64E simulator on Jan. 26 during two weeks of training on different aircraft systems at Fort Novosel.

NASA Astronaut Col. Nicole Mann operates the AH-64E simulator during training on Fort Novosel on Jan. 26.
NASA Astronaut Col. Nicole Mann operates the AH-64E simulator during training on Fort Novosel on Jan. 26. (Photo Credit: Brittany Trumbull) VIEW ORIGINAL

“We are looking at our future exploration, specifically to the moon, under the Artemis program. As part of that effort there is an HLS (Human Landing System) that will be our space craft to take us to the lunar surface,” Mann explained. “We are looking at a couple of things here. One is the different ways that people or companies solve the challenge of integrating instruments and display that information to the pilots.  Also, how we interpret that information and work together with crew coordination to land on the moon in this case. Helicopters are a great analogy to that.”

NASA Astronaut candidate Luke Delaney operates the AH-64E simulator during training on Fort Novosel on Jan. 26.
NASA Astronaut candidate Luke Delaney operates the AH-64E simulator during training on Fort Novosel on Jan. 26. (Photo Credit: Brittany Trumbull) VIEW ORIGINAL

Delaney added, “With all the different platforms that you have here at Fort Novosel, it allows us to get good exposure to the many types of systems on board. So far, the simulators we have been in were a UH-72 Lakota, UH-60M Blackhawk, and now the AH-64E Apache. The platforms that you guys are flying have a lot of similarities with what we are doing. When we look at aircraft integrations from a systems integration standpoint and just incorporating the latest technology as you all do here, it helps us build not only good input as operators for a developmental side, but a concept of operations in how we want to employ these things in a space environment.”

The Army aviators and instructors educating the astronauts on each specific aircraft were left inspired and encouraged. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stevenson Trumbull, 110th Aviation Brigade Tactics Section, gained a lot from the experience.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stevenson Trumbull briefs NASA Astronaut Col. Nicole Mann and NASA Astronaut candidate Luke Delaney on the systems and controls before entering the AH-64E Simulators on Fort Novosel on Jan. 26.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stevenson Trumbull briefs NASA Astronaut Col. Nicole Mann and NASA Astronaut candidate Luke Delaney on the systems and controls before entering the AH-64E Simulators on Fort Novosel on Jan. 26. (Photo Credit: Brittany Trumbull) VIEW ORIGINAL

“It’s incredibly humbling to be able to show astronauts, of all people, the capabilities of the AH-64 Apache," said Trumbull. "The things that it is capable of, from helping influence the flight control and symbology development for the Artemis moon lander, to being the best attack helicopter in the world is amazing. We take for granted the ‘cool factor’ of being Apache pilots but at the end of the day hearing astronauts tell us that we have a pretty exciting job is a neat feeling.”

Besides the obvious training opportunity, being amongst the future of Army Aviation leaves many that crossed their path inspired. For those interested in the NASA program both Mann and Delaney share their stories and wisdom for future astronauts.

Mann said she grew up in Northern California. She was interested in college but playing soccer as a kid drove a lot of her early decisions. “I wanted to serve in the military, so I looked at service academies and ended up in Annapolis, Maryland at the Naval Academy,” said Mann, “I really had no idea what I wanted to do in the Navy or Marine Corps as an 18-year-old, but quickly realized that I wanted to be a Marine.”

The summer before her senior year Mann got to ride in the backseat of an F-18 and she said that kind of sealed the deal. “I went through flight school as a Hornet pilot. Then did a couple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and started looking to my next opportunity and being a test pilot was something that interested me so that was the next step.”

Then she got married and had a son. Around that time NASA was opening applications to become an astronaut. Mann said, “I thought no way, I’m a mom now it’s time to move on. My husband said ‘Are you kidding me? You can’t pass that opportunity up.’ So, I applied and was selected and that was my route to NASA 10 years ago.”

“Then I went to space on Crew 5, got back last March, and that’s how it all worked for me,” said Mann, “Taking each next step.”

Delaney’s story to working with NASA looked much different, and just like Mann’s, is still being written.

“I grew up in central Florida, so I was kind of just watching shuttle launches as a kid. I had interest from the get-go,” said Delaney. “I ended up enlisting in the Marine Corps as a navigator on C-130 for a few years. I deployed to Afghanistan and was selected for the commissioning program then came back after commissioning and finally flew C-130s after all the training. From there I was selected for test pilot school and began developmental testing after that, then over to instruct at the test pilot school.  From that point I saw an opportunity to join Nasa as a research pilot, so I retired and went over to Langley (Air Force Base) to do that. They called me up after I retired thinking I was active duty because I had submitted my packet on active duty. It was a perfect transition and I guess, it all worked out in the end."

Mann said, “A common misconception is that all astronauts must first be pilots. Only about 25% of active astronauts have an aviation background. The percentage has been shifting quite a bit since we don’t fly shuttle anymore. Candidates are often engineers and scientists and doctors as well.”

If their unique stories aren’t inspiration enough, they both leave wisdom for current flight students interested in a similar path.

“First step would be finishing flight school. Get those wings! Become a master and proficient in whatever your platform is. Excel in getting qualifications and leadership experience. Then once you do that and are successful you will see that you have other opportunities in your career path to look at. Typically, as a military aviator, test pilot is one of the more common routes to becoming an astronaut, but we do currently have our first pilot that was not a test pilot coming through. The dynamics are changing. A requirement we do have is a master’s degree in a STEM field,” Mann said.

Delaney added, “There is no definitive track, especially today, so just enjoy what you are doing and look for opportunities. They are really looking for a diverse skillset of folks.”

NASA Astronaut Col. Nicole Mann
NASA Astronaut Col. Nicole Mann (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo: NASA) VIEW ORIGINAL
NASA Astronaut candidate Luke Delaney
NASA Astronaut candidate Luke Delaney (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo : NASA) VIEW ORIGINAL

For more information on the current NASA Astronauts and Astronaut Candidates visit their website at  Astronauts - NASA