NASA has received over 12,000 applications from people showing willingness to join its next class of Artemis Generation astronauts who will help the US space agency explore the Moon and Mars like never before.
The application for the newest class of astronauts opened March 2 and closed March 31, NASA said on Wednesday, adding that applications were received from every US state, the District of Columbia, and four US territories.
“We’ve entered a bold new era of space exploration with the Artemis programme, and we are thrilled to see so many incredible Americans apply to join us,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
“The next class of Artemis Generation astronauts will help us explore more of the Moon than ever before and lead us to the Red Planet,” Bridenstine added.
However, the process is just beginning for NASA’s Astronaut Selection Board, which will assess the applicants’ qualifications and invite the most qualified candidates to the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for interviews and medical tests before making a final selection.
NASA expects to introduce the new astronaut candidates in the summer of 2021.
Once selected, the astronaut candidates will go through approximately two years of initial skills training, such as spacewalking, robotics, and spacecraft systems, as well as expeditionary behaviour skills, such as leadership, followership, and teamwork.
After completing training, the new astronauts could launch on American rockets and spacecraft — developed for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program — to live and work aboard the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth.
There they will take part in experiments that benefit life at home and prepare NASA for the Moon and Mars.
This new class also may launch aboard NASA’s powerful new Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions to the Moon.
Beginning in 2024, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface and will establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028. Gaining insights from new experiences on and around the Moon will prepare NASA to send the first humans to Mars in the 2030s.
The number of people who applied to be an astronaut represents the second-highest number of applications NASA has ever received, surpassed only by the record of 18,300 set by the most recent class of astronauts who graduated in January.
For this round of applications, NASA increased the education requirement for applicants from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree in a science, technology, math, or engineering field.
In addition, the application period was shortened from two months to one.
Since the 1960s, NASA has selected 350 people to train as astronaut candidates for its increasingly challenging missions to explore space.
With 48 astronauts in the active astronaut corps, more will be needed to serve as crew aboard spacecraft bound for multiple destinations and propel exploration forward as part of Artemis missions and beyond.