World

‘Space unites us’: First Iranian-American astronaut reaches for stars

Houston

Jasmin ‘Jaws’ Moghbeli earned her fierce nickname during her time as a decorated helicopter gunship pilot who flew more than 150 missions in Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps major, MIT graduate and college basketball player can now add another accomplishment to her burgeoning resume: the first Iranian-American astronaut.

Speaking after graduating in NASA’s latest cohort, the 36-year-old immigrant said she hoped her example might help inspire others from similar backgrounds.

“I would love for everyone to be able to be inspired by everyone, but it is a little easier to be inspired by someone who looks like you or has something in common with you, so I do hope there is that influence,” she said.

Moghbeli signed up in 2005 — just four years after the September 11 attacks, and her parents were worried about what their daughter might face as a person of Middle Eastern heritage.

“But once I joined, they gave me absolute support,” she said, crediting the backing of her family, and later her partner Sam, whom she married three months ago, for her success.

Following a brief US-Iranian rapprochement during the Obama years, tensions between the two countries have soared again under the current administration.

President Donald Trump tore up the landmark nuclear deal signed by his predecessor and added Iran to a list of mainly Muslim countries whose nationals are banned from entering the US. And last week’s killing by US forces of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani raised the specter of a broader conflict.

So what is it about space that makes it all worthwhile? “One of the reasons I love working in human space exploration is, it’s something we generally all agree on and unite on,” she said.