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Eight New Astronauts to Help U.S. Define Space Future

 

U.S. Astronauts explore an asteroid in this NASA illustration.

 

NASA has chosen four men and four women, most of them with military aviation in their wide ranging professional backgrounds, to help define the nation’s post-space shuttle era.

They report to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in August to prepare for future missions that could send them on unprecedented missions to an asteroid, the Martian moons or Mars itself as well as the International Space Station.

As NASA’s newest astronauts, they can expect to help re-establish U. S. human launch capabilities with a new class of commercial orbital crew transports as well as NASA’s new Orion/Space Launch System combination, new capsules and rockets that will enable missions to deep space. That capability disappeared with the retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet in 2011.

Mars as imaged by NASA's Curiosity rover.

“These new space explorers asked to join NASA because they know we’re doing big, bold things here — developing missions to go farther into space than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, as the latest astronaut candidates were announced on Monday.

“They’re excited about the science we’re doing on the International Space Station and our plan to launch from U. S. soil to there on spacecraft built by American companies. And they’re ready to help lead the first human mission to an asteroid and then on to Mars.”

HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN

None of the 55-year-old agency’s 20 previous astronaut classes included a percentage of females as high.

“That was not by choice. We never determine how many people from each gender we are going to take,” said Janet Kavandi, NASA’s director of flight crew operations and chair of the selection board. “These were the most qualified people of the ones we interviewed.”

More than 6,300 applied for the small number of openings. Of those, 120 qualified for an interview and an initial medical screening. Those further pared the final list of applicants to 49. The final eight were selected after more rigorous physical and mental heath screening, language aptitude evaluations and a second round of face to face interviews.

“I’m happy it turned out that way, but we did not intentionally go out seeking (the 50-50 outcome) when we started,” said Kavandi. “It’s a great tribute to the women of today. They have achieved, are going into fields that are much more demanding and that place them on an equal footing with the male candidates.”

THE CANDIDATES:

–Josh A. Cassada, 39, a former naval aviator. A physicist, he’s the  co-founder and chief technology officer at Quantum Opus, an optical research company.

–U. S.Navy Lt. Cdr. Victor J. Glover, 37.  A test pilot, Glover is serving as a Navy legislative fellow in the U. S. Congress.

–U. S.Air Force Lt. Col. Tyler N. (Nick) Hague, 37. Another test pilot, Hague is serving as deputy chief of the Joint Improvised Explosives Device Defeat Squad for the Department of Defense.

–Christina M. Hammock, 34. She is serving as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration station chief inAmerican Samoa.

–U. S. Marine Corps Maj. Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35.  A test pilot, Mann is serving as the integrated team lead at the U.S. Naval Air Station, PatuxentRiver.

–U. S. Army Maj. Anne C. McClain, 34.  McClain, a test pilot, flies the Army’s OH-58 helicopter.

–Jessica U. Meir, 35. Meir is an assistant professor of anesthesia at the Harvard Medical School.

–U. S. Army Maj. Andrew R. Morgan, 37. Trained by the military as a medical doctor and flight surgeon, Morgan served with the Army’s special operations community. He’s now participating in a sports medicine fellowship.

The newcomers will join 49 NASA astronaut veterans, a dozen of them women.

NASA previous astronaut selection was in 2009.

WHERE NEXT IN SPACE FOR THE U.S.?

The space agency is prepared to train its newest astronauts in spite of the uncertainty surrounding NASA’s exploration plans. The space station will remain the centerpiece until 2020, perhaps longer.

The Earth as seen by the Apollo 11 astronauts. Photo Credit/NASA

In Washington, policymakers are at odds over whether U. S. explorers should head next.

President Obama has directed NASA to aim for an asteroid and most recently proposed that scientists and engineers corral a distant small asteroid into orbit around the moon, where U. S. astronauts could reach it as soon as 2021.

That journey would serve as a stepping stone to Mars in the mid-2030s. Some in Congress would prefer that NASA establish a lunar base instead.

“A lot of those are the same,” said Ellen Ochoa, who will host the astronaut candidates as the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Even if you look at a variety of different destinations anywhere in the Earth-moon vicinity, the asteroids and beyond, the moons of Mars and Mars. A lot of the training will be needed for any of those.”

 

 

 

 

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