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This former Marine Cobra pilot saw combat in Afghanistan. Now, she’s commanding her first space mission

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Jasmin "Jaws" Moghbeli

Marine Lt. Col. Jasmin “Jaws” Moghbeli is about to go where very few helicopter pilots have gone before.

Moghbeli, 38, is making her first trip to space later this month as the commander of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7, bound for the International Space Station on a mission to conduct experiments in the station’s microgravity laboratory. The mission, which launches August 25 with a four-member international crew, is just the latest milestone in Moghbeli’s remarkable career, but it’s also the culmination of a lifetime. 

“For me, this is something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember,” Moghbeli said in a July 25 NASA press conference, the last time she and the other astronauts would address the public ahead of the launch. “One of the things I’m most excited about is looking back at our beautiful planet. Everyone I’ve talked to who has flown already has said it’s a life-changing perspective to see Earth in that way.”

Lt. Col. Jasmin "Jaws" Moghbeli astronaut underwater spacewalk training
Then NASA astronaut candidate Jasmin Moghbeli wears a spacesuit prior to underwater spacewalk training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, April 11, 2018. (NASA/Josh Valcarcel)

Moghbeli, who flew an AH-1W Super Cobra for the Marines before becoming a test pilot for the service, was selected for NASA’s two-year astronaut training program in 2017. While most service members with dreams of going to space pursue a military career flying fighter jets, Moghbeli told me at the time of her selection that she loved rotary-wing aviation. In fact, she said, the only time she wavered in her determination to become an astronaut was during her deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, when she flew close air support missions out of Camp Bastion in Helmand province with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, nicknamed “Scarface.”

“When I was a Cobra pilot in Afghanistan, I don’t know that, had I been offered the chance to leave and be an astronaut, I don’t know that I would have said yes at the time, because I loved what I was doing in that moment,” Moghbeli said. 

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Lt. Col. Jasmin "Jaws" Moghbeli astronaut
Lt. Col. Jasmin “Jaws” Moghbeli (NASA)

Moghbeli also completed two later deployments with Marine Expeditionary Units to Japan and the Middle East. While her dreams of becoming an astronaut guided her choices throughout her career, Moghbeli said she always knew becoming part of NASA would require luck as well as skill. 

“I never did anything where, had I not gotten a shot, I wouldn’t have been happy doing what I’m doing,” she told me. 

During the press conference, Moghbeli described experiments she was looking forward to conducting while at ISS, including a spacewalk in which she’ll swab the outside of the space station to collect potential evidence of microorganisms surviving in the harsh conditions of space.

“I think that will be really cool,” she said.

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2017 NASA astronaut candidates Bob Hines, Matthew Dominick, Jasmin Moghbeli (top right), and Raja Chari take hold of their surroundings during their reduced gravity flight aboard Canadian Space Agency’s Dassault Falcon 20 Jet, Feb. 21, 2018. (NASA/Robert Markowitz)

Moghbeli also revealed that she’ll be accompanied on her six-month mission by two stuffed dragons, in honor of her young twin daughters.

“I introduced them to these dragons and said, ‘OK, now we’ve got to box them up to pack them for space,'” she said. “I’m looking forward to showing them the dragons floating around in space.”

These mascots are especially fitting, as Crew-7 will be launching aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, called Endurance. They’ll be propelled into space via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Endurance also transported the previous Crew-3 and Crew-5 missions. 

As commander of Crew-7, Moghbeli follows another Marine Corps trailblazer: Col. Nicole Mann, a former F/A-18 Hornet pilot who commanded Crew-5 and became the first Native American woman to go on a spacewalk earlier this year. Mann was also the first female Marine to lead a NASA spaceflight.

Then NASA astronaut candidate Jasmin Moghbeli answers a question during a live episode of the Administrator’s monthly chat show, Watch This Space, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, in the Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington. (Joel Kowsky/NASA)

While Moghbeli, a child of Iranian parents who grew up in Baldwin, New York, on Long Island, rarely talks about being a pioneer in her field, she said at the recent press conference that she was inspired by recent protests and demonstrations for freedom in Iran.

“I’ve been very lucky in my life to have had the opportunities I have had. While it has taken a lot of hard work to get to where I am, I didn’t have certain barriers that unfortunately others have had,” she said. “I hope to see a day where the same opportunities I have had are open for anyone else who wants to put in the hard work and effort, and there are no barriers in place preventing them from doing so.”

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Hope Seck

Hope Hodge Seck is an award-winning investigative and enterprise reporter who has been covering military issues since 2009. She is the former managing editor for