AFCLC, Air Force Culture and Language Center, Air Force's Global Classroom

LEAP Spotlight: Maj. Nichole Ayers

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  • By AFCLC Outreach Team
  • AFCLC

“Since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to be a NASA astronaut. I had an affinity for space, flying and learning about the sky. I set my sights on the United States Air Force Academy as a young child and wanted to study Russian because I knew that the NASA Astronauts learn Russian and work closely with Russia. I knew that if I ever met my goal and achieved my dream, I’d have to learn it.

“I started my language journey at USAFA and got to take advantage of every opportunity the language division had to offer there, including an Olmsted trip over spring break in Ukraine and the Cadet Summer Language Program. I also did a full semester abroad in Kyiv.

“I graduated from USAFA in 2011, where I majored in Mathematics and minored in Russian. I then attended Rice University for graduate school and received a master’s degree in Computational and Applied Mathematics. From there, I went to pilot training at Laughlin AFB and graduated from there in 2014 straight to Langley AFB to fly.

“While at USAFA, one of the instructors encouraged me to apply for the Language Enabled Airman Program. Since graduating, I’ve been an active member of LEAP. I’ve taken several eMentor classes, which I love because it’s learning Russian with a native speaker. I also attended a Language Intensive Training Event in Kazakhstan in 2016, where I was able to take Russian classes and stay with a host family that spoke Russian during my month-long tour. I’ve taken full advantage of all of the LEAP programs and initiatives available to me.

“I am now stationed at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, where I was selected to participate in the next NASA astronaut class. I applied to NASA in March 2020. That was the first time I met all of the requirements, including having a master’s degree and 1,000 hours of flying. I completed my first round of interviews in June 2021 and my last rounds in August and September. Applicants received the call in October, and we were allowed to make the official announcement in December.

“I love telling the story of receiving the news that I was accepted to the NASA Astronaut Program. When I got the call, I was on leave with my twin sister and my 5-year-old niece. We were in the car, and while I was on the phone call, I grabbed my twin’s arm; she immediately knew what was going on. My next phone call was to my husband. Naturally, my niece found out while in the car. When we got to the house, she ran around to my family and shouted, ‘Auntie’s going to be an astronaut!’ Before I could get out of the car, everyone knew. I couldn’t think of a better way for my thunder to get stolen. My nephews are 8 and 10 years old, so it was awesome to see the excitement on their faces.

‘’Excited’ is an understatement at this point in my life. NASA works with a lot of international partners, including Russia, so I’m grateful to have a base knowledge of the language, and for the time I was able to spend abroad learning the culture and being immersed in it. I cannot wait to start astronaut training in January and learn more Russian to build off the foundation I gained at the Academy and in LEAP. I’m also excited for all of the other things we get to learn as NASA astronaut candidates, such as learning about the international space station, how to fly different aircraft, and getting to know my new NASA teammates.

“It’s important for us as humans going to space together and working together to understand each other’s cultures. I feel like I have already gotten experience in that and will further my experience with NASA after building that base with USAFA, LEAP and the Air Force Culture and Language Center. I’ve taken full advantage of every opportunity given to me by the Air Force to achieve my lifelong goal of becoming an astronaut.”

-Russian LEAP Scholar Maj. Nichole Ayers

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