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Astronomical accomplishments: Ohio State student participates in astronaut training

Jillian Yuricich (left) and Xploration Station Host Emily Calandrelli Jillian Yuricich (left) and Xploration Station Host Emily Calandrelli at PoSSUM AcademyJillian Yuricich, a fifth-year aeronautical and astronautical engineering major from Hilliard, Ohio, who has wanted to be an astronaut since she was five years old, recently took another giant leap closer to her dreams by learning what it really takes to go into outer space.

This fall, Yuricich beat dozens of competitors to win TV show Xploration Outer Space’s national #StudentAstronaut Contest and earned the opportunity to attend PoSSUM Academy to learn what it takes to become a Scientist-Astronaut. 

“The goal of being an astronaut has not really seemed tangible because there are no astronaut schools or majors,” said Yuricich, who filmed her winning video submission on her grandfather’s farm, her favorite place to stargaze as a kid. “But when I learned I was going to astronaut training, it was very much like the clichéd dream come true. The only thing that could make it better would be knowing I would be going to Mars.”

Xploration Outer Space host Emily Calandrelli, who informed Yuricich that she won the contest through a surprise video message played during class, said “We chose her to be featured in the show because of her passion for space exploration and her ability to inspire others. She's an amazing student.”

A training program designed and taught by former NASA astronaut instructors and PoSSUM team scientists, PoSSUM Academy teaches participants how to operate instruments, work inside a pressurized spacesuit and even simulates suborbital mission profiles through aerobatic flight. Yuricich experienced 4.5 Gs during training, meaning forces on her body were 4.5 times that of Earth’s gravity, as well as hypobaric chamber testing that simulates the effects of climbing in altitude during flight.

“I was part of the first class of undergraduate students to go through the program and was personally the first participant to ever fly in the spacecraft simulator in full spacesuit gear as both pilot and mission specialist on two different occasions,” said Yuricich. 

Her training experience will be featured in a season two episode of FOX’s Xploration Outer Space, airing December 19 and available for free on Hulu December 20. The episode will explore the suborbital science industry and what students will need to know to be part of this exciting new wave of research.

Jillian YuricichThis is not the first time Yuricich’s out-of-this-world potential was recognized. In 2014 and 2015, she received the prestigious Astronaut Scholarship, making her the first Ohio State student ever awarded a scholarship by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Created in 1984 by the six surviving members of the Mercury 7 astronauts, the foundation aims to help retain world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships for students who demonstrate motivation, imagination and high performance. 

“I’ve wanted to be an astronaut since I was five, and against all odds, with such slim chances, it seems more possible now,” said Yuricich. 

Attending Ohio State has also propelled her toward successfully achieving her dreams, Yuricich said.

“Ohio State has given me more than I could have ever imagined. There is so much here to immerse yourself in. Because of the amount of support I’ve garnered from Ohio State through career fairs and Engineering Career Services, I was always able to seek out opportunities,” said Yuricich. “However, there’s only so much your school can do for you before you have to do something for yourself. You have to forge your own path.”

Yuricich furthered her experience with internships with Rolls Royce, NASA, where she worked as a test engineer in the Rotorcraft Aeromechanics Branch, and consecutive internships with the Naval Air Warfare Center. At the center she worked in the Advanced Aircraft Design Branch on combat air vehicle design and running flight tests with F/A-18 and F-35 strike fighter jets. 

Set to graduate next spring, Yuricich plans to attend graduate school to further her education. Instead of taking the summer off, she has her sights set on securing an internship at SpaceX, a company founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.

“SpaceX is innovating at a rapid pace, aiming to send people to Mars, and is still making money from it,” she said. “I would love to work with people who believe in that dream as much as I do.”

Since attending astronaut training, Yuricich is more even more determined to make her dreams a reality.

“It was such an incredible experience as an undergraduate to go through all of this priceless training,” she said. “And quite honestly, it reaffirmed everything I thought I wanted. Being an astronaut is as natural and instinctual to me as breathing. I was smiling through every activity, no matter how stressful.”

by Jenn Shafer