NASA taps Whitehead scientist for astronaut duty

Head and shoulders shot of Kate Rubins

Whitehead Fellow Kate Rubins


Sam Ogden/Whitehead Institute

CAMBRIDGE, Mass — For Kate Rubins, a Fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, the sky is no longer the limit.

Rubins is among nine men and women selected by NASA for the 2009 astronaut candidate class. NASA announced its selections Monday after a months-long screening of more than 3,500 applications. Rubins will head to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in August to begin a training program that, among other things, will require her to master piloting supersonic jet aircraft and to speak Russian fluently.

“I was a bit stunned, humbled, and overwhelmed,” says Rubins of her selection. “This is a very exciting time to be joining the space program.”

Rubins is no stranger to adventure. Her work at Whitehead in applying cutting-edge technologies to sequence the genomes of deadly viruses with epidemic potential has routinely taken her to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she has established a lab to study human outbreaks of monkey pox. She’s also experienced in handling samples of lethal Ebola and smallpox viruses in collaborations with the U.S. Army and U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“Anyone who knows Kate knows she loves adventurous science,” says Whitehead Director David C. Page. “Ordinarily when we speak of adventurous scientists here, they’re usually content with biology. But Kate’s passions for adventure and science are clearly now taking her well beyond. I suspect she’ll bring the most advanced understanding of molecular biology anyone’s ever brought to the space program.”

“Whitehead has been a fantastic place to build our work on scientific exploration of human biology,” adds Rubins. “I will take the wonderful experiences and scientific foundation here into the next phase of discovery.”

Rubins and her eight astronaut classmates will embark on an intense two years of training in the U.S. and abroad, after which she hopes to become “mission-eligible” in NASA parlance—and to become the first Whitehead Fellow in space.

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Kate Rubin’s primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where her laboratory is located and her research is conducted.

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