NASA confirms this week that it has put 10 new astronauts through an intensive physical and diagnostic test in preparation for five future missions to an asteroid or Mars.
The new group join a total of 30 astronauts who have already flown to space aboard the space shuttle and International Space Station. All of the recruits were selected from a pool of more than 5,000 candidates.
“We’re pleased with the results, and we’ll take the information we learned from the astronauts during their training and use it to make successful future missions possible,” said NASA astronaut Shea “Howie” Schweickart, director of astronaut candidate training, in a statement.
The 10 rookies are one more than NASA has selected for the newly minted class. NASA has two openings for its astronaut corps.
“We’re well-positioned to meet the challenges of the next generation of exploration, and the numbers of highly qualified future astronauts available are at their peak,” said Michael Coats, NASA’s associate administrator for astronaut candidate development, in a statement.
The academy’s mission is to train and support future astronauts. It, among other things, provides all of the physical and diagnostic tests the candidates must pass to earn their coveted astronaut wings. This year’s training lasted more than 5 months, followed by 10 months of flight training.
Schweickart said the skills each new astronaut will bring to the US space agency will be instrumental in preparing them for all of the upcoming potential missions.
For example, he said, the first astronauts to fly on Orion, NASA’s commercial crew capsule, will help teach astronauts to fly under pressure as they pilot the spacecraft, which has been delayed.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the astronauts are ready to go.
“We all know that no other space program has sent human explorers so far from home and back,” he said in a statement. “I have confidence these 10 recent astronauts will carry on this tradition.”
The astronaut recruits include pilots Rich Mastracchio, Josh Cassada, Tim Kopra, Nick Hague, Christina Hammock Koch, Nicole Mann, Joe Acaba, Matthew Dominick, Christina Hammock Koch, Victoria Criscuolo, Michael Hopkins and Sunita Williams.
The program will be led by the astronaut corps, but the astronauts selected will also train alongside NASA’s astronauts with experience that spans five decades. They include Rex Walheim, who has been flying the space shuttle since 2010, and Mike Hopkins, a veteran who last flew on the space shuttle in April 2012.
In December 2016, the US Senate passed legislation that eased NASA’s road to human spaceflight. As part of the legislation, NASA has authority to select up to nine additional people for training and then send them to training in preparation for five future flights to an asteroid and one trip to Mars.
The new recruits will now train at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, before flying as human spaceflight crew members aboard Orion. Astronauts will lift off aboard Orion and then perform dockings with the space station.