Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Dr. Eugene Trinh, First Vietnamese-American Astronaut

During the summer of 1992, Eugene Huu-Chau Trinh became the first Vietnamese-American to travel to outer space when he flew aboard Space Shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist on mission STS-50. This mission lasted from June 25 to July 9 of that year.

Trinh was born in 1950 in Saigon (present-day Ho Chi Minh City) at a time when his homeland was internationally recognized as the State of Vietnam, a partially autonomous country within the French Union. When he was only two years old, Trinh moved to France, with his parents. He graduated from Lycee Michelet in Paris in 1968 with a baccalaureate degree and then went to the United States to further pursue his education. Trinh received a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering and applied physics from Columbia University in 1972. He subsequently attended Yale University, earning a master of science in 1974, a master of philosophy in 1975, and a doctorate of philosophy in applied physics in 1977.

Trinh was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale in 1978-79 and then began his career at NASA as a senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Over the course of two decades, his work at JPL included research in fluid dynamics, fundamental materials science, and levitation technology. His time as a member of the seven-member crew for mission STS-50 gave him the opportunity to conduct several related hands-on experimental investigations in orbit. The flight, which was the longest of any space shuttle mission up to that time, enabled Trinh to log in a total of 13 days, 19 hours, 30 minutes, and four seconds in outer space.

Trinh currently serves as director of the Physical Sciences Research Division in the Biological and Physical Research Enterprise at NASA’s headquarters. In this role, he leads efforts focused on the effects of gravity and the development of technologies that will facilitate further human exploration of our solar system and what lies beyond it.

Trinh was given the NASA Space Flight Medal for his accomplishments. His other honors have included the Golden Torch Award, which he received from the Vietnamese American National Gala in 2004.

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