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NASA's new astronaut class marks changing of guard for US spaceflight (+video)

NASA named its first new astronauts in four years Monday. Of the eight new recruits, four are women, and all are members of the 'space shuttle generation.'

NASA names four new female astronauts
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If there ever was a changing of the guard within the US astronaut corps, perhaps it came Monday.

NASA announced the selection of four men and four women as its newest astronaut candidates, the first newcomers to the corps in four years.

For the first time, no classmate was alive – either as tot or teen – during the Apollo missions, Skylab, or the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous between spacecraft launched by intense geopolitical rivals, the US and the former Soviet Union. Instead, theirs was the space-shuttle era – with its tragedies as well as its successes – and the birth and growth of the International Space Station.

Both have been criticized in some circles as inspirational duds.

And if the future direction of NASA's human spaceflight program keeps twisting and folding back on itself in a political taffy-pull between NASA, the White House, and Congress, that doesn't seem to be discouraging would-be space travelers..

More than 6,300 people applied for eight openings – the second-largest number of applicants in the agency's history, officials say. Of those, 120 qualified to undergo initial interviews. The screening committee winnowed that down to 49 for a battery of rigorous physical and psychological tests, and another interview.

What emerged was the Elite Eight from a variety of military and civilian backgrounds, but with much in common – virtually all have scuba-diving experience experience (think spacewalks), two have worked at isolated research stations in Greenland or Antarctica (space station and missions beyond low-Earth orbit), and several boast test-pilot credentials.

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