In T-minus two weeks, UCSB alumnus Joseph Acaba will blast off into outer space onboard NASA’s spacecraft Discovery.

On March 12, Acaba and UCLA graduate John Phillips will join five other National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronauts on the Discovery’s 28th mission to the International Space Station – an orbiting satellite station jointly operated by over a dozen countries. According to a press release from the University of California Office of the President, a total of 20 UC graduates have earned the title of astronaut, beginning with a UCLA graduate who was part of the Apollo 7 space mission in 1968.

During the two-week space odyssey, the crew of the Discovery will transport and install a set of solar arrays on the ISS in order to complete construction of the space station’s truss, or backbone. The arrays are intended to increase the power-generating capacity of the station, allowing for the continuation of scientific experiments in addition to providing auxiliary energy for a larger, six-man space crew. The team will also deliver and install a replacement distillation assembly, which strips various impurities from urine to assist the space station’s water recycling program.

The upcoming launch was originally set for Feb. 19, but the date has been pushed back four successive times due to complications surrounding a flow control valve located in the shuttle’s main engines.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in geology from UCSB, Acaba obtained a master’s from the University of Arizona. He then spent one year as a high school teacher and four years as a math and science middle school teacher. Acaba also served in both the Marine and Peace Corps as an environmental researcher.

According to a press release, Acaba then joined NASA five years ago through a program that trains educators for space travel. He became the first NASA astronaut candidate of Puerto Rican heritage.

Acaba said his college years at UCSB and the mentorship of Arthur Sylvester, professor emeritus of geology, launched his career.

“Your time at a university has a huge impact on your life,” Acaba said in a press release. “At any grade level, [it] takes that special teacher to motivate students. UC Santa Barbara has a whole bunch of those kinds of teachers.”

Sylvester said that Acaba seized the cosmic opportunities presented to him.

“I certainly can look back at the professors who helped me,” Sylvester said. “I took my examples from my mentor, professor Robert Webb. He used to say our job as university professors is to open doors and windows for students to peer through and to see what there is out in the world for them to do and overcome. [He] would say that we should hitch students to a star and let them take flight. That’s what Joe has done; he’s hitched himself to a star and gone up