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.
For instance, the class includes Marine Maj. Nichole Mann, an F-18 pilot who served in Iraq, graduated from test-pilot school, and is a test-pilot operations officer at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.
What if some have no front-seat, fighter-jet experience? No problem. Candidate Jessica Meir, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, has a private pilot's license. But she and her classmates will head down to Pensacola Naval Air Station for training in high-performance jets.
"I'm really excited about going to Pensacola for flight training in jets," she said in a prerecorded video. Indeed, none of the candidates was present for the rollout of their training class because all were busy at home tying up loose ends before moving to Houston.