The U.S. space agency has introduced eight new astronaut candidates, selected from a pool of 6,300 applicants.
The new astronaut trainees - Josh Cassada, Victor Glover, Nick Hague, Christina Hammock, Nicole Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir and Dr. Andrew Morgan - have all dreamed of becoming space explorers. During the past year-and-a-half, they have passed rigorous medical and psychological evaluations, and have performed well during multiple tests and interviews. Now they are letting their families and employers know that they are changing careers, all in the pursuit of their dream.
NASA's Janet Kavandi, a veteran astronaut and the director of Flight Crew Operations, says the candidates are "an amazing group of people."
Once they complete their training, they'll join NASA's astronaut corps, which currently stands at 48. That is about one-third the size it was at its peak a decade ago.
"With a smaller astronaut corps and fewer people in the office, now each person needs to have as diverse a background as possible, so we tried to work hard to make sure that the eight people we got had a broad spectrum of experiences, and I think you can tell that from their qualifications," Kavandi said in a Google Plus Hangout.
Most of the candidates either are presently in the military or have served in the military; one is a medical doctor; some are civilians who are trained scientists; and several have spent ample time in a cockpit. The candidates are all in their 30s, and they will begin their astronaut training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas this August.
Candidate Josh Cassada, a former naval aviator, was emotional in his video introduction that was broadcast on NASA TV Monday.
"I think if society isn't exploring, we're really just kind of sustaining, and to be able to contribute to that exploration in any small way is really exciting to me," he said.
Candidate Christina Hammock serves as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration station chief in American Samoa.
"What actually inspired me to make the move to actually do the application was just reflecting on my career and realizing that through following my own personal dreams, I had accumulated a set of skills that I thought could really be useful in contributing to human spaceflight," she said.
Nick Hague, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, said this was the third time he applied to the astronaut corps.
"My parents are going to be excited. They know that this has been a life-long goal, trying to become part of the program," he said. "My brothers, as they always do, will give me a hard time."
Half of the new astronaut trainees are women. NASA says this is the highest percentage of female candidates ever selected for a class.
"That was not by choice or by determination," said NASA's Kavandi. "We never determine how many people of each gender we're going to take, but these were the most qualified people of the ones that we interviewed. They earned every bit of the right to be there."
Kavandi said she attributes this to women's achievements in demanding fields that put them on equal footing with male candidates.
This is NASA's 21st astronaut class. The U.S. space agency has selected and trained 330 astronauts since the initial class of 1959.
NASA says its plan is to keep an active astronaut corps of between 45 and 55 people.
NASA Administrator Bolden’s message about the Astronaut Class of 2013