US space agency NASA has received more than 6,300 applications between 15 November 2011 and 27 January 2012 from individuals wanting to become an astronaut. The figure marks the second-highest number of applications the agency has ever received from applicants, NASA said.
NASA usually receives between 2,500 and 3,500 applicants in response to astronaut vacancy announcements. The highest response occurred in 1978, with 8,000 applicants.
After a selection process that includes interviews and medical exams, NASA will select nine to 15 people to become part of the 21st astronaut class.
"This is a great time to join the NASA family," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said.
"Our newest astronauts could launch aboard the first commercial rockets to the space station, the next generation of scientists and engineers who will help us reach higher and create an American economy that is built to last."
NASA astronaut applications’ process
The Astronaut Selection Office staff will review the applications to identify those meeting the minimum requirements.
Next, an expanded team, comprised mostly of active astronauts, will review those applications to determine which ones are highly qualified. Those individuals will be invited to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for in-person interviews and medical evaluations.
"We will be looking for people who really stand out," said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and chair of the Astronaut Selection Board.
"Our team will not only will be looking at their academic background and professional accomplishments, but also at other elements of their personality and character traits – what types of hobbies they have or unique life experiences. We want and need a mix of individuals and skills for this next phase of human exploration."
NASA expects to announce a final selection of astronaut candidates in the spring of 2013.
The selected astronaut candidates will then undergo two years of initial training that includes space station systems, Russian language and spacewalking skills training. Those who complete the training will be assigned technical duties within the Astronaut Office at Johnson and, ultimately, missions.