Record numbers apply for astronaut school

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Astronaut Bruce McCandless II photographed from the Space Shuttle Challenger during the first untethered EVA (extravehicular activity), made possible by his nitrogen jet propelled backpack on 7 February 1984. – NASA/Space Frontiers/Getty Images

More than 18,300 people applied to join NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 and smashing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former astronaut.

“A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from US soil on American-made spacecraft.”

Of the applicants only a select group of eight to 14 individuals will be chosen as astronaut candidates. The process of elimination will take 18 months, with NASA saying the selections will be announced halfway through next year.

The assessment of each application is the responsibility of the Astronaut Selection Board. It will interbiew the best-qualified candidates at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where training also takes place.

“We have our work cut out for us with this many applications,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson.

“But it’s heartening to know so many people recognise what a great opportunity this is to be part of NASA’s exciting mission. I look forward to meeting the men and women talented enough to rise to the top of what is always a pool of incredible applicants.”

But selection for the class is no guarantee of making it into space. The astronaut candidates will go through about two years of initial training on spacecraft systems, spacewalking skills and teamwork, Russian language and other requisite skills.

Those who complete the training will be given technical duties within the Astronaut Office at Johnson before being assigned on any of four different spacecraft – the International Space Station, NASA’s Orion spacecraft for deep space exploration, or one of two American-made commercial crew spacecraft currently in development – Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner or the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

There is more information about the program on the NASA website.

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