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UNF alum realizes his childhood dream

Luke Delaney headshot (NASA)Growing up in central Florida, a young Luke Delaney dreamed he would someday become an astronaut and travel into outer space to explore the unknown. After high school, he pursued his passions: a military career, aviation and engineering studies, always with his eye on the goal of someday experiencing a countdown and liftoff.

This week’s NASA announcement proves that childhood dreams can come true. At 42, retired Maj. Luke Delaney was chosen for the 2021 class of astronaut candidates, one of 10 selected from 12,000 applicants. In January, he will report for duty at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to complete two years of training as an Astronaut Candidate.

During a brief Zoom interview scheduled by NASA, the UNF grad admitted that the reality of his new appointment hasn’t fully registered yet. “I was working at NASA Langley on some of their airborne science research, and I was in between meetings and saw the Houston number,” Delaney said. “I picked it up and man, I couldn’t believe they were asking me. I really thought they were going to say, ‘We appreciate you applying and going through the process, but you’re not in the final selection,’ but they said I was, and it really caught me off guard.”

With the full support of his wife, Tracy, and their two daughters, Delaney accepted the offer.  He believes his parents laid the groundwork for this new reality by involving him in science and technology and helping him to focus on academics. He also credits his selection on his diverse range of life experience. The Florida native holds degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering, served in the military for 22 years as a distinguished and decorated naval aviator and test pilot, and most recently worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, supporting airborne missions.

His journey began in 1998 after high school, when he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was selected for a navigator position and subsequent flight training. He was later admitted to the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program and stationed in Jacksonville to help run an ROTC program at Jacksonville University while earning a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of North Florida in 2006.

“My wife and I both went there, and we had young girls at the time, so we had a lot of family adventures at UNF,” said Delaney, explaining that his wife earned a degree in elementary education and went on to teach wherever he was stationed. “What we really appreciated was that the campus is kind of isolated and rural and natural. We love the outdoors, and we walked the trails and just relaxed, so it was a great atmosphere.”

From there, he continued his flight career as a naval aviator, earning numerous service medals and executing 400 combat sorties amounting to over 550 combat flight hours. In all, Delaney has more than 3,700 flight hours on 48 different models of jet, prop and rotary wing aircraft. During that time, he also earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, in 2016. He retired from the Marine Corps in 2020 and transitioned to NASA Langley as a research pilot and aerospace engineer.

After the next two years of training, the 10 astronauts could be assigned to missions involving research aboard the International Space Station, launching from American soil on commercially built spacecraft, as well as deep space missions. As a child, Delaney said he was focused on leaving the planet to go into outer space. Now, he’s focused on the training ahead.

“I’m focused on working with this team, this team of awesome individuals, and having met such a great group and felt this positive energy,” he said. “I think this is the exciting part now, going through this rigorous training and preparing for these missions to the moon and beyond.”