‘You May Be the First to Travel to Mars’: NASA Names Its Most Competitive Class of New Astronauts

Jun 08, 2017

NASA on Wednesday named 12 Americans as its new class of astronaut candidates after a selection process that's way more competitive than admittance to Harvard.

NASA received a record number of applicants—18,300, meaning its acceptance rate is 0.7%. Harvard's, by comparison, is 5.2%.

Five women and seven men make up the new class, NASA's largest since 2000.

The candidates will begin their two years of training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Tex., in August. NASA says they could be assigned to a variety of missions, including performing research on the International Space Station, launching commercial spacecraft from American soil, and departing on deep space missions.

Vice President Mike Pence presided over the announcement at Johnson on Wednesday, saying the new recruits possess "personal excellence" and "personal courage" that "will carry our nation to even greater heights of discovery." He added, “You may be the first to travel to Mars,” according to Bloomberg.

NASA is on a journey to Mars, with a goal of sending humans there in the 2030s

The list jobs requirements for astronauts is surprisingly brief. NASA seeks applicants who:

  1. Are U.S. citizens
  2. Have earned a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, science or math
  3. Can pass a NASA physical, which is similar to a military or civilian flight physical
  4. Have completed 1,000 hours of flying a jet or three years of related professional experience

NASA whittles its total applicant pool down by filtering out people who don't meet those criteria and by relying on the input of a panel of experts, mostly active astronauts. References are called and candidates are paraded through a series of interviews.

Those who made the cut this year are an impressive bunch.

Twenty-nine-year-old Kayla Barron, for instance, was a member of the first class of women the Navy commissioned into the submarine community and served as a submarine warfare officer. She was also awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and earned a master's degree in nuclear engineering. A Navy lieutenant, she's joining NASA from the U.S. Naval Academy, where she has been serving as the flag aide to the superintendent.

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Robb Kulin, 33, has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, a master’s degree in materials science, and a doctorate in engineering. He once worked as a commercial fisherman in his native Alaska, and held a job as an ice driller in Antarctica. Since 2011, Kulin has worked for SpaceX in Hawthorne, Calif., where he leads the launch chief engineering group.

NASA has a full list of the new astronaut candidates here.

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