NASA has selected a new class of astronauts for the first time since July 2015, but notably absent was any mention of going to Mars.
There were 12 astronauts in total, comprising seven men and five women, ranging in age from 29 to 42. They were unveiled at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas yesterday.
“These are 12 men and women whose personal excellence and whose personal courage will carry our nation to even greater heights of discovery,” said Vice President Mike Pence in a speech to the audience. It was also his birthday, which is nice.
You can see a list of all the candidates of Group 22 here. Be warned though that their list of credentials are rather daunting. Robb Kulin, 33, for example, is a SpaceX employee who also worked as an ice driller in Antarctica and a commercial fisherman in Alaska. Not bad.
NASA put out the call for new astronauts in December 2015, and was inundated with responses. There were a record-breaking 18,300 applicants, more than double the previous record of 8,000 in 1978, when the Space Shuttle was being developed.
Prior to the current administration, most of NASA’s focus had been on its Journey to Mars. This was the bold plan (somewhat light on detail) outlined by previous NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden to get humans to Mars by the 2030s.
But this time around, there was very little mention of Mars. It’s rumored that NASA has actually been banned from mentioning the Journey to Mars, which suggests this plan may be dead in the water. Currently, there are tentative plans to build a new space station near the Moon as a stopgap to Mars. But no one really knows what the final goal is, whether it's a return to the Moon or boots on the Red Planet.
It’s also not clear what spacecraft these astronauts will fly on. There are three in development that will be used by NASA: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Boeing’s Starliner, and NASA’s own Orion spacecraft. These have respective first crew launch dates between 2018 and 2021. One candidate, Raja Chari, said he didn’t care what he rode on. He just wanted to fly.
These astronauts will now undergo two years of training before they can be assigned to missions. In its statement, NASA said these could be missions to the International Space Station (ISS) or flights on Orion. Again, no mention of rusty planets here.
This new class might have to wait a little while to go to space, though. NASA already has 44 active astronauts ready to fly, with few crew launches actually planned in the future. Nonetheless, when things do get up and running, it’s good to know NASA’s got an extremely qualified pool of people to choose from.