Serena Maria Auñón (M.D., M.P.H.) is a physician, engineer, and NASA astronaut. (Courtesy NASA)

INNOVATOR: Serena Auñón, physician and astronaut

Serena Auñon is the second Hispanic woman to become a NASA astronaut. She has earned a bachelors degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University, a doctorate of medicine from the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, and a masters of public health degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch. NASA originally hired Auñón as a flight surgeon to assist in medical operations for the International Space Station. In 2009, NASA selected Auñón as an astronaut, and by 2012, she piloted a DeepWorker 2000 Submersible for an exploration mission off Key Largo, Florida. In October, she says she is looking forward to robotic arm training that will take place in Canada.

AGE: 37

HERITAGE: My father is from Cuba. He came to the U.S. in October of 1960, at 18, by himself. My mother is from Virginia. They met as students at George Washington University.


HOMETOWN: Fort Collins, Colorado

OCCUPATION OF PARENTS: My father, Jorge Auñón, when he first came here, worked at any odd job to make money — as a bartender, in grocery stores, and then he eventually went to George Washington University and became a professor of electrical engineering. He then became Dean of engineering at Texas Tech University and then at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. He retired in 2005. My mom, Margaret Auñón, (pen name Maggie Sefton) is a novelist — she writes murder mysteries.

SIBLINGS: Three sisters — they all live on the East Coast.

CURRENT TOWN: Been in Houston, Texas since 1997 and haven’t left.

WHY A PHYSICIAN AND AN ASTRONAUT? Since I was very little I wanted to be an astronaut, but I wasn’t sure what path I would take to get there. I always loved the sciences. Engineering was a good tool because it teaches you how to critically think and problem solve. I wanted to work with people and so decided to go to medical school. It was my gut instinct. After I went to medical school — finished in 2001 — I did two residencies: internal medicine and aerospace medicine.

NASA astronaut Serena Aunon, attired in a training version of her Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit, awaits the start of a spacewalk training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near NASA's Johnson Space Center. (Photo/NASA)

NASA astronaut Serena Aunon, attired in a training version of her Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit, awaits the start of a spacewalk training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. (Photo/NASA)

CURRENT PROJECTS: September 19 I leave for Russia because we are launching more people to the International Space Station. I’m helping support three people — one American and two Russians — as we launch the Soyuz capsule out of Kazakhstan. The American, Mike Hopkins, was in my astronaut class, and he will be the first in our class to be launching. They will launch the crew to spend six months on the International Space Station.

TYPICAL DAY: Whenever a new astronaut comes on board, we spend 2 to 2.5 years training them on space systems, robotics and space walks. from 2009-2011. A typical day for me involves a lot of that training, and I talk to the crew aboard the space station and help them with their daily tasks. I also take Russian language lessons and speak to as many schools as I can to help them learn about the space program.

FIRST PAID JOB: During high school, I worked at a golf driving range at the concession stand.

BEST PIECE OF ADVICE EVER RECEIVED: From my father — respect everybody regardless of their position — whether they are a janitor or an executive, everybody deserves respect.

ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D GIVE TO SOMEONE COMING UP BEHIND YOU: Always follow your passion. If you go down a path you think others want you to follow, you’ll be miserable. What you love is your passion, and everything else will work out.

BEST DAY ON THE JOB: Probably the very first day I came to work in 2009, because I couldn’t believe I had finally made it.

WORST DAY ON THE JOB: I haven’t really had one. I enjoy every day I’m here.

YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Finally becoming a physician — I love practicing medicine. I still love it. Medicine is my passion, and it makes me a better astronaut. The type of medicine I practice I have to listen and pay attention to every small detail, and I think that helps a lot as an astronaut. I haven’t been in space yet, but I understand all the problems that go on in space. If we need to design a medical kit for space, it definitely helps with that too.

LIVING PERSON YOU MOST ADMIRE: I admire every man and woman that is serving overseas right now, because it is a tremendous sacrifice.

ONE THING PEOPLE WHO KNOW YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU: I love to play cricket. I learned how to play in residency — it’s a lot of fun.

THE LAST TIME YOU DID SOMETHING FOR THE FIRST TIME: A lot of our training is doing something for the first time. At the end of October, I’ll be doing robotic arm training for the first time in Canada. The space station has robotic arms for cargo ships. They help bring the cargo ships in. We learn how to work two different controllers — one in each hand.

MOST TREASURED POSSESSION: My white coat that I wear in the hospital. It means a lot to me, because it represents what my passion is. Most of my time is spent at the Johnson Space Center, and I work at the hospital after hours and on weekends.


FAVORITE FOOD MEMORY: The Cuban food I grew up with that my family cooks, and I still cook today. My favorite food by far is frijoles negros and platanos and ropa vieja.

READING RIGHT NOW: “The Celestine Prophecy”

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