Washington: The aspiration to become astronauts seems to have rocketed in the US as more than 18,300 people applied to join NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.
The number of applications that the agency has received for the 2017 astronaut class is almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, NASA said.
"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 in a statement on Friday.
"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,” Bolden noted.
Applications opened on December 14, and closed Thursday, but that is just the beginning of an 18-month process that will end with the selection of 8-14 individuals for the opportunity to become astronaut candidates.
NASA hopes to announce its selections in mid-2017.
Between now and then, NASA’s Astronaut Selection Board will review the applications, assessing each candidate’s qualifications.
The board will then invite the most highly qualified candidates to the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for interviews before the final selection is made and the new astronaut candidates report to Johnson for training.
After reporting at Johnson, 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, NASA said.