The Astronaut Candidate Program has attracted a record number of applicants wishing to join NASA’s ranks, it has recently been announced.
Apparently, between December 14, 2015 and February 18, 2016, more than 18,300 people submitted an application as part of the Astronaut Candidate Program launched by National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the usajobs.gov website.
It’s unclear exactly how many of these individuals actually fulfill NASA’s requirements, which specify that applicants should have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, physics, biology, mathematics or engineering.
Candidates must also have at least 3 years’ worth of experience in one of the above-mentioned fields, and those who fail to meet this criterion can only be selected if they’ve completed a minimum of 1,000 hours piloting a jet.
It’s likely that just a few of the people who submitted their applications actually correspond to the job description, but the pool of candidates remains unusually high this year.
In fact, the number is approximately 3 times as high than the one reported in 2012, when just around 6,300 people participated in the selection process.
It also dwarfs by a staggering margin the prior record for the Astronaut Candidate Program, which was set more almost four decades ago, in 1978, when approximately 8,000 individuals competed for the chance to engage in space exploration.
According to Charles Bolden, a former astronaut who currently serves as NASA’s Administrator, it doesn’t come as a surprise that such a large number of people have been attracted by the Astronaut Candidate Program, given the fact that the upcoming missions to Mars are so heavily anticipated.
Another reason for the record-breaking number of applicants may be the fact that such a selection process hasn’t unfolded in 4 years, so interest has been building up for quite a long while.
Also adding to the undeniable appeal of the Astronaut Candidate Program was the success of several movies dealing with space exploration, such as Battleship, Interstellar, The Martian, Gravity, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Oblivion etc.
The fact that NASA officials have been so active on social media websites in recent years, constantly interacting with members of the general public and paying heed to their queries and requests is likely to have generated even more interest in the space agency’s upcoming projects and missions.
Now that the first phase of the selection process has ended and all the would-be spacefarers have submitted their applications, the Astronaut Candidate Program will continue with the next stage, which will unfold for the following 18 months.
During this period, the Astronaut Rating Panel will assign grades to each applicant while taking into account academic results and professional experience.
Candidates considered to be highly qualified will be reviewed by the Astronaut Selection Board, and afterwards interviews will be conducted at the Johnson Space Center from Houston, with the candidates that appear the most suitable for this hugely enviable position.
The final list of people who have been selected to join NASA’s latest astronaut roster will be revealed in 2017, and given the fact that just around 8 to 14 individuals will be chosen, the probability of being among the lucky few is quite low, verging between 0.04% and 0.08%,
The future space explorers will then have to undergo grueling training, for a period stretching across 2 years. The extensive preparation will consist in spacewalk practice, Russian language learning, spacecraft simulations etc.
Finally, after this stage is complete as well, some of the astronauts in the class of 2017 will join the International Space Station, while others will have the chance to board the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), a spacecraft that will conduct asteroid redirect missions, followed by lengthier space exploration journeys, to Mars and beyond.
Alternatively, those selected during the Astronaut Candidate Program will be able to board commercial crew vehicles, such as the CST-100 Starliner designed by Boeing, or the Crew Dragon developed by Space X.
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