SDM Alum Robb Wirthlin Nominated to NASA Astronaut Program

Robb Wirthlin

Courtesy of MIT’s July 2, 2008

US Air Force Major Robb Wirthlin, an ESD PhD candidate and a 2000 graduate of the System Design and Management Program (SDM), has cleared an initial step toward becoming an astronaut: after a competitive selection process, the Air Force’s Astronaut Nomination Board has forwarded his name to NASA for consideration for the astronaut program.

The next step for mission-specialist candidates like Robb is often an invitation to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for interviews and physical testing.

NASA is expected to announce its choices for admission to its one-year basic astronaut training program in May 2009. According to the Air Force, those who are accepted will "contribute to the design, development and testing of the Ares launch and the Orion crew exploration vehicles" as well as the "planning for future human operations on the moon."

Robb’s research at ESD includes an involvement with the Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI) that extends back to his SDM days, doing research on best practices in requirements development for product development and the current state of practice in several military organizations.

After earning his master’s and returning to active duty, Robb applied LAI research in his Air Force work. That research has been mostly space related, involving the design and delivery of systems used in all areas of space—ranging from communications to ground-based space support systems to on-orbit protection of space assets. He has also managed systems engineering activities for thousands of systems of various complexity that interface with DoD data processing and relay systems at "a space operational location."

Since joining ESD’s PhD program in 2005, Robb has been investigating the role risk plays in large complex systems development within larger enterprises.

As for his nomination to be considered by NASA, Robb offers generous credit to ESD, saying "ESD’s approach to systems and systems thinking gives me the foundation and tools I need to be well prepared as a mission specialist astronaut—able to deal with and understand complex systems in a dynamic, socio-technological environment. I’m fortunate to have been able to use my MIT experiences in the US Air Force. I can’t imagine better preparation for NASA than my ESD SDM master’s degree and an ESD PhD."