Largest-ever pool of applicants yields NASA's 12 newest astronauts
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — NASA picked 12 new astronauts Wednesday. These seven men and five women could one day fly aboard the nation's next generation of spacecraft.
The U.S. space agency had to sort through more candidates for the job than ever before.
The astronaut class of 2017 includes doctors, scientists, engineers, pilots and military officers from Anchorage to Miami and points in between. They've worked in submarines, emergency rooms, classrooms, jet planes, and battleships. They range in age from 29 to 42, and they typically have been called leaders.
"It makes me personally feel very inadequate when you read what these folks have done," said Robert Lightfoot. He helps hire people at NASA.
President Sends Congratulations
Vice President Mike Pence welcomed the group during a televised ceremony at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. He said that President Donald Trump congratulated them. Pence said that the president is "firmly committed to NASA's noble mission, leading America in space."
Pence told them he would lead a renewed National Space Council to help decide where the NASA space program will go.
Under Trump, "America will lead in space once again, and the world will marvel," Pence said.
More than 18,300 people have applied for the job since it was offered a little over a year ago. That's more than double the previous record of 8,000 set in 1978.
A Chance For Space Travel
The 12 selected Wednesday will join 44 astronauts already working for NASA. That is a lower number than usual. U.S. astronauts have not left the ground since 2011, when it was decided the space shuttles would not be used anymore. That could change next year.
After two years of training, the new astronauts may end up flying beyond the moon in NASA's Orion spacecraft. Or they might make the ultimate journey — walking on Mars.
SpaceX and Boeing are building rockets that can carry astronauts to the space station and back as soon as next year. A launch engineer and senior manager for SpaceX, Robb Kulin, is among the new astronauts. He's also worked as an ice driller in Antarctica and a commercial fisherman in Alaska.
"Hopefully, one day, I actually fly on a vehicle that ... I got to design," Kulin said.
Kulin may be in for a long wait. Some astronauts who were hired in 2009 still haven't been to space.
Jonny Kim, a former Navy SEAL, told reporters it "may be a little unclear" what will happen in the future.
"We're just happy to be here," he added.
The Best View In The Universe
Jack Fischer was a new astronaut in 2009. He just got to the International Space Station in April, but he said he couldn't be happier. In a humorous video, he showed the latest hires their "new office" in space.
"It's a little bit cramped. The desk is kind of small. But the view. Oh, the view," he said.
Geologist Jessica Watkins already has experienced space as part of the team working on NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars.
"We intend to send her to Mars one day, folks," NASA Flight Operations Director Brian Kelly said in introducing Watkins. She gave a thumbs-up.
This is NASA's 22nd group of astronauts. The first group, the original Mercury 7 astronauts, was chosen in 1959.
A Total Of 350 American Astronauts
Altogether, 350 Americans have now been selected to become astronauts. To become one, you must be a United States citizen, have a college degree in science, technology, engineering or math, and possess experience in space or piloting jets.
A brief look at the new astronaut team:
Navy Lieutenant Kayla Barron of Richland, Washington, is a submarine-warfare officer and nuclear engineer. She was among the first class of women commissioned into the submarine service and now works at the U.S. Naval Academy. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Raja Chari is from Cedar Falls, Iowa. Navy Lieutenant Commander Matthew Dominick hails from Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
Zena Cardman of Williamsburg, Virginia is a researcher at the National Science Foundation. Bob Hines of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, works for NASA as a research pilot.
Warren "Woody" Hoburg of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr. Jonny Kim of Los Angeles is a Navy lieutenant who is working in emergency medicine in Boston. Robb Kulin of Anchorage, Alaska, works as an engineer for SpaceX.
Marine Major Jasmin Moghbeli of Baldwin, New York, tests helicopters.
Loral O'Hara of Sugar Land, Texas, studies the ocean at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Dr. Francisco "Frank" Rubio of Miami, is an Army major and surgeon.
Jessica Watkins of Lafayette, Colorado, is working to become a doctor at California Institute of Technology.