Overall, more than 6,000 people applied to become part of the next generation of NASA astronauts when the call went out about a year and a half ago.
Duane Ross, who manages astronaut candidate selection, says the only time there were more applicants was in 1978 when more than 8,000 applied.
“The real answer is Teresa (Gomez) and I were blown away. I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ because 6,000 is a lot of applications, it’s a lot of work. On the other hand, and this is the real answer too, we were really, really encouraged because that means there was a lot of people who are still interested in being part of the space program and support it. You know, because a lot of the stuff you might hear sounds like we’re not doing as well as we would hope.”
He says usually the number of applicants is around 3,000 and attributes the strong response to a thorough advertising campaign.
Of the 6,000 applications, 120 were invited for interviews and evaluations. That number was narrowed down to 49 candidates and after some more tests and evaluations, the final eight were selected.
They will now start two years of training at JSC. Only then will they officially be astronauts and ready to fly into space.
Also remarkable is that four of the eight candidates are women.
Janet Kavandi, director of flight cooperations at JSC, says that says a lot about a change in the types of jobs women have today.
“We took them from their previous fields, and so we have military pilots now, a lot higher percentage of military pilots that we interview. People who like our scientists really go out in the field and do really true expeditionary work, so they’re out there doing really cool and amazing things that maybe 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, women didn’t traditionally do.”
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says the new astronauts will be part of a new era of space exploration.
“These next generation American astronauts will be among those who will have the opportunity to fly on new commercial transportation systems that are now under development. And more importantly, they will be among those who plan and perhaps carry out the first ever human missions to an asteroid and on to Mars.”
With the space shuttle gone, it also means they stand at the beginning of a path that hasn’t been walked before. Astronaut candidate Nicole Mann says she thinks the group is up for the task.
“We’re wide-eyed and we’re open. And we all have a diverse background and have trained and are ready here, open, willing to learn and train whatever mission NASA has put forth to us, and we’re all very excited about that.”
NASA’s plan is to start sending people into space on the Orion capsule in 2021.