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Record number of Americans apply to be astronauts, NASA says

A record number of people applied to join NASA’s elite corp of astronauts, more than doubling the previous high mark set in 1978, the space agency said on Friday.

About 18,300 individuals applied for the agency’s 2017 astronaut class since the application process opened on Dec. 14, far exceeding the 8,000 who applied in 1978. NASA will select between eight and 14 people for their class of 2017, a process that will likely take 18 months.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” said former astronaut and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, in a statement. “A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft.”

In November, NASA announced it would open up at least 8 positions after a four-year hiatus from hiring new astronauts. Since 1959 NASA has chosen more than 300 astronauts and currently has 47 among its ranks.

But with an increase in spacecraft development and the potential for a historic manned deep-space venture to Mars, the agency is attempting to bolster its ranks.

NASA is looking for representatives from a variety of fields including pilots, engineers, scientists and medical doctors and will whittle down the applicants from thousands to hundreds before a training program commences.

Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the process will begin by reviewing and assessing applicants skill sets as part of the process, with advantages tilted to those with advanced degrees in biological science, physical science and mathematics or a minimum of 1,000 hours of “pilot-in-command time in a jet aircraft.”

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