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NASA Astronaut Joe Acaba, right, trains with Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, left, and Sergei Revin at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Photo Credit/NASAThese days, it's just NASA astronaut Joe Acaba. However in 2004, Acaba and fellow classroom teachers Ricky Arnold and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger attracted more than the usual attention when NASA announced their selection as "educator astronauts." An agency selection committee found them qualified to train as NASA mission specialists along side seven military officers, engineers, scientists and medical doctors who filled out their selection group.On March 30, Acaba is scheduled to become the first of the educators to tackle a long duration mission aboard the space station. The 44-year-old former Florida high and middle school science and math teacher will be seated alongside cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin when their compact Soyuz spacecraft blasts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a 5 1/2 month tour of duty."There was probably a lot of anxiety about how these teachers were going to do in this environment," Acaba recalled during a Jan.11th interview at NASA's Johnson Space Center. "Hopefully, we have proven to people in the office and others who were watching that teaching is a a profession just like any other. We are more than capable of doing the job."The former Marines Corps reservist and Peace Corps volunteer, he trained for as a back up to current space station tenant Dan Burbank as well as for his own mission.As they reach the station in early April, Padalka, Revin and Acaba will be greeted by American Don Pettit and Russian Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands.If current scheduling holds, Acaba and Pettit will be involved in the rendezvous and berthing of the first cargo supply mission launched by the Orbital Sciences Corp. under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. Orbital's Antares launched Cygnus capsule will follow the February cargo demonstration mission flown by NASA's other COTS partner, SpaceX. The SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon mission is planned for February.The berthing activities requires two astronauts positioned at a control post inside the station to grapple the supply capsules as they approach the station with Canadarm2, a long external robot arm.Both commercial delivery services are crucial to future six-person staffing of the space station.Acaba, Arnold and Metcalf Lindenburger participated in the station's assembly during shuttle missions in 2009 and 2010. Acaba and Arnold flew together and teamed for a pair of spacewalks.That's when the adjective "educator" seemed to fall away.Their entry into the astronaut corps was paved by Barbara Morgan, the grade school teacher and backup to NASA teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe. McAulliffe was among the seven astronauts who perished aboard the shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986.
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