NASA picks 12 new astronauts
NASA has chosen 12 new astronauts. They come from NASA's biggest pool of applicants ever. Seven men and five women were picked. They could one day fly aboard the nation's next generation of spacecraft.
The astronaut class of 2017 includes doctors, scientists, engineers, pilots and military officers. They hail from Anchorage to Miami and points in between. They've worked in submarines, emergency rooms, university lecture halls, jet cockpits and battleships. They range in age from 29 to 42. They typically have led the pack.
"It makes me personally feel very inadequate when you read what these folks have done," said Robert Lightfoot. He is NASA's acting administrator.
Vice President Mike Pence welcomed the group. This was during a ceremony June 7. It was held at NASA's Johnson Space Center. It is in Houston. He offered President Donald Trump's congratulations. And he noted that the president is "firmly committed to NASA's noble mission, leading America in space."
Pence assured the crowd that NASA will have the resources and support necessary to continue to make history. He said he would lead a resurrected National Space Council. It would help set the direction of the program.
Under Trump, "America will lead in space once again. And the world will marvel," Pence said.
More than 18,300 people threw their hats into the space ring during a brief application period. That was a year and a half ago. The number is more than double the previous record of 8,000. It was set in 1978. That is when the space shuttles were close to launching.
The 12 selectees will join 44 astronauts already in the NASA corps. U.S. astronauts have not launched from home soil since 2011. That is when the space shuttles were retired, thus the low head count. Americans have been hitching rides aboard Russian spacecraft in the meantime. But that could change next year.
After two years of training, the newbies may end up riding commercial rockets to the International Space Station. Or they may fly beyond the moon in NASA's Orion spacecraft. Their ultimate destination could be Mars.
SpaceX and Boeing are building capsules capable of carrying 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 and his classmates may be in for a long wait. Some members of the class of 2009 have yet to launch.
Dr. Jonny Kim, a former Navy SEAL and specialist in emergency medicine, told reporters it "may be a little unclear" what the future holds, at least regarding what spacecraft he and his fellow astronauts might fly.
"We're just happy to be here," he added.
Jack Fischer was in the 2009 group. He just got to the space station in April. But he said he couldn't be happier as he showed the latest hires their "new office" in a video.
"It's a little bit cramped. The desk is kind of small. But the view. Oh, the view."
Geologist Jessica Watkins already has experienced space, vicariously. She was part of the team working with NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars.
"We intend to send her to Mars one day, folks," NASA Flight Operations Director Brian Kelly said. He introduced Watkins. She gave a thumbs-up.
This is NASA's 22nd group of astronauts. The first group was the original Mercury 7 astronauts. They were chosen in 1959.
Altogether, 350 Americans have now been selected to become astronauts. Requirements include U.S. citizenship; degrees in science, technology, engineering or math; and at least three years of experience or 1,000 hours of piloting jets.