A general view of atmosphere during NASA's 'What's Your Favorite Space' interactive event at the Eventi Hotel on August 17, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
by Todd Halvorson, Florida Today
- Newest class is the 21st selected by NASA
- Chosen candidates were selected from more than 6,300 applicants
- The class includes the highest percentage of women ever picked
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Just call them "The Great Eight."
Thirty-five years after selecting its first class of space shuttle astronauts in 1978 - the "Thirty-Five New Guys" - NASA on Monday introduced the four men and four women who make up the Astronaut Class of 2013.
Talk about stiff competition. The eight were selected from more than 6,300 applicants - the highest number since more than 8,000 vied for those 35 slots in 1978.
There's an Army doctor who worked covert special operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.
There's an experienced aquanaut and under-ice diver who has done fieldwork in Antarctica and now is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
NASA astronaut Mike Foreman, who gained entry to the Astronaut Office in 1998 after his eighth application, said the quality of the newest class is dauntingly impressive.
"Personally, I'm just glad I'm not competing for a spot today," said Foreman, a veteran of two space shuttle missions. "These people are just like super-human people to me."
The new "astronaut candidates" will report to Houston in early August and begin a year of basic training - a step that must be completed successfully to be put on flight status and be made eligible for selection to a crew.
The United States currently doesn't have a spacecraft to fly its own astronauts, relying instead on Russia. But potential future missions include flights to the International Space Station on U.S. commercial space taxis; or exploration missions to destinations that could include asteroids, the moon or Mars.
The Astronaut Class of 2013 includes the highest percentage of woman ever picked.
Veteran NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi, now director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the gender split was not by design.
"These were the most qualified people that we interviewed," she said. "I'm glad, I'm happy it turned out that way. But we weren't seeking that when we started out."
The Astronaut Class includes:
- Josh Cassada, 39. A test pilot with combat experience, Cassada is a physicist with a PhD. and an entrepreneur. He co-founded Quantum Opus, a start-up that provides researchers with high-speed photon detectors.
- Victor Glover, 37. A test pilot with combat experience, Glover is a Navy lieutenant commander who holds three advanced degrees. Glover was a NCAA Division 1 wrestler and football player. Currently, he is serving as a Navy Legislative Fellow in the U.S. Congress.
- Tyler "Nick" Hague, 37. A test pilot with combat experience, Hague holds bachelor's and master's degrees in aeronautical engineering. Hague now works with the Department of Defense as Deputy Chief of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.
- Christina Hammock, 34. Hammock holds bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering and physics, a master's degree in electrical engineering, and she worked in x-ray detection at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. She completed three scientific expeditions to Greenland and Antarctica. Now she is the Station Chief in American Samoa for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35. A military test pilot with combat experience, Mann holds bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering. The Marine Corps major now is serving as an Integrated Product Team Leader at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Md. She also is a scuba diver who was captain of the Naval Academy's women's soccer team.
- Anne McClain, 34. An Army helicopter pilot, McClain earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, a master's in public health, and a master's degree in international security. She was a member of the U.S. National Women's Rugby Team, flew combat missions and is a recent graduate of U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.
- Jessica Meir, 35. A civilian scientist, Meir holds a bachelor's degree in biology, a master's degree in international space studies and a doctorate in marine biology. An aquanaut and under-ice diver, Meir has done fieldwork in Antarctica. Currently, Meir is Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School.
- Andrew Morgan, 37. An Army medical doctor, Morgan earned a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering and also is a medical doctor. Morgan is an experienced emergency physician and served as a flight surgeon for the Army special operations community. He jumped with the Army Golden Knights parachute team and currently is completing a sports medicine fellowship.