Breaking barrier after barrier, Baldwin native Jasmin Moghbeli earned the rank of major in the Marines, flew helicopter combat missions in Afghanistan and, just days ago, became a newly minted NASA astronaut.
She's not done yet. Moghbeli, 36, graduated Friday from NASA's astronaut training program. She was among 13 men and women selected for the two-year training from a record 18,000 applicants.
Moghbeli, who hatched her space dreams at Baldwin's Lenox Elementary School, comes into the NASA program at a particularly ripe time. The graduating class was virtually split between men and woman and filled with ethnic diversity.
Moreover, Moghbeli earned her navy blue flight suit as NASA reinvigorates its space program with the Artemis project, whose goal is to place a man and a woman on the moon by 2024. So the little girl whose photo adorns the entranceway to the Lenox school, replete with a red panda shirt, might one day break another barrier — blasting beyond Earth's atmosphere to become the first woman to walk on the moon.
"I can't believe I am so close to going into space," she said, a childlike wonder in her voice.
Moghbeli's parents fled Iran after the 1979 revolution, aiming for a better life for their family.
"I think they knew they wanted their children to have opportunities, the opportunities we have here," Moghbeli said.
She was born in Germany and her family moved to Baldwin just before she started kindergarten. Her first-grade teacher at Lenox, Ronnie Bloom, recalled that Moghbeli was a smart, quiet child.
"I just remember her being very well-behaved, a good student — just perfect," said Bloom, who lives in Syosset.
When she was in second grade, Moghbeli brought in brownies for her class to celebrate her becoming a U.S. citizen.
But it was a sixth grade book report that lit the fuse on her dreams of conquering space. She picked as her subject Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who in 1963 became the first woman in space.
For the project, Moghbeli and her mother constructed a makeshift space outfit using a white windbreaker, winter boots and a plastic container for the helmet. At the time, Jasmin thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Now, she said, "I think it looks more like a beekeeper outfit."
Her mother, Fereshteh Moghbeli, 65, recalled watching her daughter fall in love with the cosmos.
"That's when she got the spark in her mind," said Fereshteh Moghbeli, 65, of Delray Beach, Florida. "A lot of children say they want to become an astronaut. We never thought it would become her career."
Jasmin Moghbelin, however, began methodically charting her course to the stars. When she was 15, she attended the Advanced Space Academy in Huntsville, Alabama. There, she received her first navy blue flight suit and promptly brought it home and wore it for Halloween.
Barbara Riess, 64, was her AP physics teacher at Baldwin Senior High School. She remembered Moghbeli as a "dedicated, conscientious" student who had a love of math — and space travel.
"She was committed to the path she had chosen, and she never wavered from that," Riess said. "She was always having questions and seeking answers that we didn't have yet in science and physics."
The terror attacks of 9/11 occurred while Moghbeli was at MIT, and they spurred widespread concern, if not animosity, toward people with roots in countries like Iran. After earning a degree in aerospace engineering there, Moghbeli joined the Marines in 2005, despite the post-9/11 atmosphere in the country.
"My parents thought I was crazy," she said. "But once I joined, they gave me absolute support."
She trained to fly Cobra helicopters and engaged in 150 combat missions in Afghanistan.
"We have to be grateful for what's here in America, and I just wanted to pay that back and serve my country," she said.
During her time in Afghanistan, she was involved in an incident that resulted in her jaw being stuck open for a time. That earned her the nickname "Jaws," which has stuck to this day.
When she was selected for astronaut training school in 2017, she called her parents. Her mother recalls they were at a pizza place. Her father started crying.
"I ended up driving back home," said Fereshteh Moghbeli. "He was too emotional to drive."
The next two years of study tested her physically and mentally. She had to learn Russian, and how to do a spacewalk. Spacewalking, she realized, looked a lot easier on TV than in real life.
Moghbeli trained in a giant pool that contained a mock-up of the International Space Station. The spacesuits were so bulky they resisted movement, she said.
"You're basically in your own spacecraft [in the suit] and you have to learn how to move within that thing, and make it do what you want to do," she said.
Then came her graduation on Friday, where the 13 graduates were honored on the stage at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Moghbeli received her silver pin, a tradition dating to the Mercury 7 astronauts of the 1960s.
The ceremony hearkened back to those early days of the space program, when this country had a bold vision of reaching the moon and the U.S. astronauts seemed to embody all that was best in America.
Fifth graders at Lenox Elementary School watched a livestream of the ceremony. The kids, wide-eyed in wonder, then got to ask their high-flying alumna some questions.
Madison Lopez, 10, asked Moghbeli what message she had for the students.
"You can't just dream big, without working for it," Moghbeli said.
She recalled that when she enrolled in MIT, she received a 24 out of 100 on an early test. The bad grade left her crestfallen, questioning whether she had the right stuff for her big dream.
"You have to learn how to fail, because at some point you're going to fail," she told the children. "You need to push through that and keep trying."
Lopez said she got the message.
"I have to have faith in myself," said the fifth grader. "And courage."