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Eager Americans Flood NASA With Astronaut Applications

 

In this artist's drawing, a crew of future NASA astronauts approach an unexplored asteroid. Image Credit/NASA

 

 

NASA received a startling number of applications for a relatively small number of openings in the agency’s next class of astronauts — the men and women will live and work aboard the International Space Station, pioneer the use of new commercial orbital transportation systems and lift off aboard advanced spacecraft for new deep space destinations.

The number of applications reached just under 6,400 at the close of NASA’s application period, Jan. 27 at midnight, the space agency announced on Friday.

More than half flooded into NASA during the final days of an application campaign that got under way in mid-November for what agency officials anticipate will be 15 openings at most.

“Historically, we’ve received between 2,500 and 3,500 applications for each class,” said Duane Ross, who leads NASA’s Astronaut Selection Office. “We were a bit surprised, but very pleased by the overwhelming response to our recent Astronaut Candidate vacancy announcement. To me, this demonstrates the fact that the public remains genuinely interested in continuing the exploration of space. As for my office, we will be busy for a while.”

NASA Astronaut Mike Massimino is all smiles during a mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo Credit/NASA

There is no sign that the retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet in 2011 has dampened the enthusiasm for human space exploration in theUnited States.

Typically, the agency receives between 2,500 and 3,500 applicants for astronaut vacancy announcements. The highest response occurred in 1978 with 8,000 applicants.

The ’78 class marked the first opportunity for a new generation of Americans interested in the space shuttle, which took flight for the first time in 1981, to sign up.

“The Flight Crew Operations Directorate is very happy with the large number of applicants for the astronaut program,” said Janet Kavandi, Director of Flight Crew Operations. “NASA feels strongly that an appropriate mix of skills, education, and background provide the office with a greater ability to successfully work a wide array of operational situations.”

Currently, NASA counts 57 men and woman in the astronaut office eligible for space flight assignments. That’s down from a historical high of 139 in 2,000, when the agency was launching six shuttle crews a year and just starting to train astronauts to live and work aboard the space station.

The space agency plans a lengthy applicant review process, with the intent of conducting preliminary interviews and medical evaluations in the late summer and fall. The new class will be announced in the spring of 2013 and report to NASA’sJohnsonSpaceCenterfor initial training the following summer.

NASA restricted applications to personnel with bachelor’s degrees and professional experience in engineering, science and math or in K-12 classroom instruction.

 Astronauts earn between $64,700 and $141,700 annually.

 

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