Reflection on Hispanic Heritage Month



In reflecting back on Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we’d like to highlight the life of Fernando Caldeiro.


A NASA astronaut and the first person of Argentine descent to train for a spaceflight.


When he was a boy he dreamed of becoming an astronaut. As an adult, he became the first Argentine astronaut to arrive at NASA. Fernando Caldeiro was born June 12, 1958 in the Ituzaingó district of Buenos Aires, Argentina.


In his teens and away from his hometown, "Frank", as he was renamed abroad, settled for family reasons in the United States. First settling in Flushing, New York, he went on to earn an associate degree in applied science in aerospace technology from the State University of New York at Farmingdale (1978), followed by a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Arizona (1984).


Eleven years later, he completed his Master of Science degree in engineering management from the University of Central Florida.


Before working for NASA, Caldeiro was hired by Rockwell International, working on the checkout and delivery of all 100 B-1B Bombers to the U.S. Air Force. In 1988, he reported to Kennedy Space Center as a Rockwell space shuttle main propulsion system specialist responsible for the ground processing and launch of shuttle Discovery.


Caldeiro joined NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in 1991 as a cryogenics and propulsion systems expert for the safety and mission assurance office. He took part in 52 space shuttle launches before being chosen as an astronaut candidate in 1996. He also served as the executive staff assistant to the director of Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance.


Embracing a career with NASA that followed the latter path, Caldeiro served in technical support roles, first as the lead astronaut for the station's life support systems and its European-built components, reviewing the design and manufacture of the U.S. "Harmony" Node 2 and European Space Agency (ESA) Columbus modules, as well as the yet-to-be-launched Cupola robotics viewing port and the space shuttle-lofted cargo carriers, the Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM).


In 2002, he was named National Hispanic Scientist of the Year by the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida. That same year, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans under the "No Child Left Behind" Act.


From June 2005 to December 2006, Caldeiro served as the lead astronaut in charge of shuttle software testing at the Johnson Space Center's Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, testing in-flight maintenance procedures, prior to being reassigned to Houston's near-by Ellington Field to direct the high-altitude atmospheric research experiment program carried onboard NASA's WB-57 aircraft.


In addition to following the profession that all kids fantasize about, "Frank" started a family and had two daughters, Annie Aurora and Michelle Carmen. During all the years that he was an astronaut, he contributed with his knowledge and experience to improve the systems of the space shuttles and the International Space Station when it was just being built.


Although he lived much of his life in the United States, he used to visit Ituzaingó, Argentina to reconnect with his friends and family. In one of his last stays, the astronaut toured his native neighborhood and visited his old school, where he took the opportunity to talk to the students about the history of the establishment and was distinguished with the Santa Rosa Award, which he received from historian Rolando Goyaud.


Fernando Caldeiro, who referred to his hometown as "a paradise" died in 2009 at the age of 51 as a result of a brain tumor.


Written by:

Lorna Evans, MD

AMSRO Diversity Committee