News | July 10, 2024

U.S. Naval War College Alumni Join Next Generation of Astronauts

By U.S. Naval War College

NEWPORT, R.I.—U.S. Naval War College (NWC) alumni Cmdr. Jack Hathaway and Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Wittner graduated as astronauts in NASA’s Artemis program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, March 5.

The two career naval aviators were among 12 candidates selected by NASA to participate in the Artemis training program. Now, having graduated, they have earned their astronaut wings, securing eligibility for spaceflight, including assignments to the International Space Station (ISS), future commercial destinations, and missions to the Moon and Mars.

Inspired as a child by movies and books on Apollo astronauts and the incredible bravery they displayed in accomplishing their mission, Wittner said it was exhilarating to hear the news that she was accepted to the program.

“It changed everything,” Wittner said. “And the program has just been wonderful. Now, today, I’m graduating.”

For Hathaway, the call came in while he was working aboard his ship, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).

“It was a pretty surreal experience, and it was just awesome to be with my Navy family when it happened,” he said. “I just loved that I was about to do something else that I was going to love.”

A 2004 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) and 2016 graduate of NWC, Hathaway credits his professional military education (PME) experience for enabling him to apply strategy and creative thinking to his training as an astronaut and naval career as a leader.

“There are a lot of challenges associated with spaceflight. A lot are more technical, and a lot of them are people-related, involving leadership and team membership,” he said. “The Naval War College really made me think about why things are happening the way they do and how to get a group of people to move strategically in the direction necessary to achieve the goal,” he stated.

Wittner echoed similar sentiments, having earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in 2018 and a Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) I certification from NWC’s College of Distance Education (CDE) in 2021. She attributes her ability to value different leadership perspectives and problem-solving approaches to her military education.

“Everybody in our class, everybody in this office, is a leader in his or her respective field,” she said. “The War College really helped set me on that path too because it was another steppingstone towards honing different leadership skills and growing into this as a more senior role.”

Wittner offered that her exposure to varying leadership styles came specifically from reflecting on readings and case studies allowing her to critically examine her current and future leadership styles. She advises current PME students and all those wishing to be successful in their military careers not to remain static in their thinking, but rather to foster an open and curious mind.

Now that they have graduated, both Hathaway and Wittner are looking forward to donning their NASA Extravehicular Mobility Suits (EMUs) and readying themselves for the critical missions that lie ahead. But the impact of their training will stick with them forever. For Hathway, the best part of the experience has been the sense of community established via shared experience.

“You just never encounter someone who's here by accident,” he said. “Everyone is of the same mindset that he or she wants to be part of the team supporting the nation in pushing boundaries and exploring space, and it’s pretty cool to be surrounded by that level of enthusiasm.”

Wittner concurred, adding that it was wonderful collaborating with so many people from diverse backgrounds to solve problems and reminding those with a dream that there is no one set path to NASA.

“We’re surrounded by academics, phone engineers, doctors, etc.,” she said. “Everyone brings something to the table.”

In their educational and professional accomplishments, both graduates follow in the footsteps of lauded astronaut, Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., a naval aviator, graduate of NWC and the USNA and the first American and second individual to travel into space. Fascinated by flight, Shepard was also the fifth and oldest person to walk on the Moon at the age of 47.

NASA continues its work aboard the ISS, which has maintained more than 23 consecutive years of human presence. The agency also is enabling the development of new commercial space stations where crew members will continue conducting science to benefit Earth and deep space exploration.

As part of NASA’s Artemis campaign, the agency will establish the foundation for long-term scientific exploration at the Moon; land the first woman, first person of color and its first international partner astronaut on the lunar surface; and prepare for human expeditions to Mars for the benefit of all.

NWC delivers excellence in education, research and outreach, informing today’s decision-makers and educating tomorrow’s leaders. The college provides educational experiences and learning opportunities that develop students’ ability to anticipate and prepare strategically for the future, strengthen the foundations of peace, and create a decisive warfighting advantage.

From U.S. Naval War College.