Returned Peace Corps Volunteer First to Become a U.S. Astronaut

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 7, 2004 –Yesterday, Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez met with Joe Acaba to congratulate him on becoming the first ever former Peace Corps volunteer to become a U.S. astronaut. Director Vasquez presented Acaba with a Peace Corps patch and pin to commemorate the occasion.
photo of Director Vasquez and Joe Acerba
Director Vasquez congratulates Joe Acaba on becoming the first former Peace Corps volunteer to become a U.S. astronaut.

“You are a role model and inspiration for future Peace Corps volunteers,” stated Director Vasquez. “We’d like you to take this small token of your Peace Corps experience with you when you travel into space.”

Named yesterday as one of NASA’s newest 11 astronauts, Acaba, 36, is a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in the Dominican Republic from 1994-1996. Acaba said he credits his Peace Corps experience with helping to lay the groundwork for this newest career endeavor.

“I learned a lot of great skills [as a Peace Corps volunteer], and I’m sure it helped in the selection process, being able to live in that type of environment,” said Acaba.

Acaba, who grew up in Anaheim, Calif., left a career as a hydrogeologist to join the Peace Corps, where he served as an environmental educator.

“The Peace Corps was my first job as a teacher,” he said. “Once I did that, I really knew I wanted to teach.”

Most recently, Acaba has been teaching math and science to 7th and 8th grade students at Dunnellon Middle School in Florida. Now, he will take his teaching skills, from the Peace Corps and Florida, to space to inspire the next generation of students and explorers. Acaba was one of three Mission Specialist Educators chosen for the new 2004 astronaut class. For the next year, he will train with astronauts, and then Acaba, who is Latino, hopes to reach out to minority students as an educator astronaut.

Acaba, who speaks fondly of his years in the Peace Corps, still wears his “Peace Corps” ring everyday that he purchased in the Dominican Republic. He, along with other volunteers in his group, bought rings to signify their Peace Corps experience from a resident involved in a Peace Corps small business development project.

“I’m proud to have been a Peace Corps volunteer,” he said.

Acaba joins the growing list of congressmen and senators, governors, diplomats, educators, doctors, writers, journalists and other notable Americans who have served as Peace Corps volunteers.

Since 1961, more than 171,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment.

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