Talk about the “right stuff.”
NASA on Wednesday named a dozen new astronauts — seven men and five women — selected from a record pool of more than 18,000 applicants, more than double the previous high of 8,000.
“You are the 12 who made it through, you have joined the elites, you are the best of us,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston. "You carry on your shoulders the hopes and dreams of the American people."
NASA's diverse Class of 2017 includes six military officers, two of them doctors. It includes a marine biologist involved in Antarctic expeditions, a geologist who has worked with NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, and a SpaceX engineer who might ride a rocket and capsule he helped design.
“We do things because they are hard, and then we crush it,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Raja Chari, a 39-year-old test pilot from Iowa, when asked about the opportunity to fly a spaceship.
The group ranges in age from 29 to 42 and hails from 10 states. Each member holds an advanced degree.
Families and VIP guests cheered as the astronaut candidates, as they will be called until completing a two-year training program, walked onto a stage wearing blue NASA flight suits.
Chari was joined by Kayla Barron, 29; Zena Cardman, 29; Matthew Dominick, 35; Bob Hines, 42; Warren "Woody" Hoburg, 31; Dr. Jonny Kim, 33; Robb Kulin, 33; Jasmin Moghbeli, 33; Loral O’Hara, 34; Dr. Francisco "Frank" Rubio, 41; and Jessica Watkins, 29.
The future astronauts might perform science research aboard the International Space Station, flying to the orbiting laboratory in Boeing Starliner or SpaceX Dragon capsules launching from Cape Canaveral, or in Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
They could be assigned to the first exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit since the last Apollo moon landing in 1972.
The 2017 astronaut class is NASA’s 22nd, nearly 60 years after the 1959 introduction of the Mercury Seven amid a space race with the Soviet Union.
To apply, applicants had to be a U.S. citizen, have a degree in a science, technology, engineering or math field and at least three years of related experience, or at least 1,000 hours piloting jet aircraft.
Starting last year, selection teams winnowed the field of 18,353 applicants to 120 and then 50 finalists.
The astronauts-in-training will report to Houston in August to begin studying space station systems, learning Russian and flying T-38 jets.
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