October 26, 2023

Pioneering commercial astronaut and Purdue alumna Beth Moses to join President Chiang for Purdue Presidential Lecture Series

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Commercial space pioneer Beth Moses, who has successfully completed six spaceflights for Virgin Galactic and serves as its chief astronaut instructor, will join Purdue President Mung Chiang early next month for a conversation as part of the Presidential Lecture Series.

The public event, titled “From Purdue Alumna to Commercial Astronaut Pioneer,” is at 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6, in Stewart Center’s Fowler Hall. While the lecture series event is free, a general admission ticket is required.

chiang-m19 Mung Chiang Download image

“Purdue alumna Beth Moses is blazing her own trail as a space pioneer, becoming a professional astronaut who has been on six of Virgin Galactic’s nine total suborbital spaceflights since 2018,” Purdue President Chiang said. “Fortunately, this member of Purdue’s Cradle of Astronauts has time in her busy spaceflight schedule to be here on Earth for a return to campus as a guest in our Purdue Presidential Lecture Series.”

Moses joined Purdue’s Cradle of Astronauts when she made history Feb. 22, 2019, as the first female commercial astronaut to work in space as the sole mission specialist for Virgin Galactic’s test flight VF01. She conducted the first engineering evaluation of the passenger systems and cabin dynamics aboard SpaceShipTwo. During the flight, she also became the first human to unbuckle and float around during a suborbital spaceflight and the first test passenger to fly above Mach 3 in a commercial transport vehicle.

The Virgin Galactic flight climbed to a height of nearly 56 miles, qualifying Moses and the two pilots onboard for Commercial Space Astronaut Wings from the Federal Aviation Administration. The designation meant Moses became Purdue’s 25th astronaut, 16 of whom are graduates of Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She also became the 571st human in space and the 63rd woman.

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Moses wanted to make her inaugural Virgin Galactic spaceflight even more memorable by representing the university she credits with launching her aerospace career. She sent a rush request to Tom Shih, then head of Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. A staff member located a pair of Purdue pennants at University Bookstore and shipped them overnight. A gifted gold pennant is now displayed at Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering.

Moses made history again in July 2021, joining fellow Purdue alumna Sirisha Bandla on the first fully crewed commercial mission aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity 22 flight, which reached 53.5 miles above Earth. So far this year, Moses has flown on Virgin Galactic’s test flight in May and aboard its commercial tourist flights in August, September and October.

As chief astronaut instructor for Virgin Galactic, Moses uses these spaceflight experiences to prepare other staff, tourists and researchers to fly in the cabin of SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic has been working for more than a decade to send paying passengers on short space hops, gaining the federal government’s approval in 2021. The company is aiming for 400 flights per year from its spaceport in southern New Mexico once it finishes building its next class of rocket-powered planes at a facility in neighboring Arizona. Company officials say an estimated 800 applicants are on the waiting list to fly aboard its spaceplane.

Before joining Virgin Galactic in 2013, Beth Moses spent 24 years with NASA, where she served as the extravehicular activity system manager for the International Space Station from design through on-orbit construction. She led the global program of human-in-the-loop testing, which designed, developed and verified the spacewalk mechanisms used to assemble and maintain the space station.

For her contributions alongside the global team, NASA and the space station received the Robert J. Collier Trophy honoring the “greatest achievement in aeronautics and astronautics in America” in 2009 for “successful design, development and assembly of the world’s largest spacecraft, an orbiting laboratory, promising new discoveries for mankind and setting new standards for international cooperation in space.” 

Moses received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue. As a student, she received the National Science Foundation’s Microgravity Research Award to conduct materials research in parabolic flight. She is the recipient of Chicago’s Adler Planetarium 2017 Women in Space Science Award and is a Google Science Fair judge. She was honored as an Outstanding Aerospace Engineer by Purdue’s College of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2018.

“My Purdue AAE education is arguably the most crucial tool in my professional toolbox — thank you, AAE, for your wise and enduring counsel,” Moses said. “You not only taught me the fundamentals of aerospace engineering but how to think independently, collaborate politely, be pragmatic and contribute to a better future for all. Not to mention how to survive all-nighters in the terminal room.”

About the Presidential Lecture Series

Launched in 2014 by then-Purdue President Mitch Daniels and continued by President Mung Chiang, the Presidential Lecture Series exposes Purdue students and the broader community to inspiring ideas, courageous leadership and models of civic engagement and civil discourse. The Presidential Lecture Series has had over 40 guests of many viewpoints and perspectives and hosted some of the great intellectual, business and civic leaders of our time. As one of the world’s premier centers of scholarly leadership, Purdue is — appropriately and necessarily — a regular venue for great thinkers across a wide variety of disciplines.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a public research institution with excellence at scale. Ranked among top 10 public universities and with two colleges in the top 4 in the United States, Purdue discovers and disseminates knowledge with a quality and at a scale second to none. More than 105,000 students study at Purdue across modalities and locations, with 50,000 in person on the West Lafayette campus. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue’s main campus has frozen tuition 12 years in a row. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap, including its first comprehensive urban campus in Indianapolis, the new Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business, and Purdue Computes, at https://www.purdue.edu/president/strategic-initiatives.

Writer and media contact: Phillip Fiorini, pfiorini@purdue.edu, 765-430-6189

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