NASA will soon start recruiting for the next class of astronauts in anticipation of extending its operations into deep space environments and eventually launching a manned mission to Mars.
The US space agency will accept applications from December 14 through mid-February and expects to announce candidates selected in mid-2017. The next class of astronauts may fly on any of four different US vessels during their careers: the International Space Station (ISS), two commercial crew spacecraft currently in development by US companies, and NASA's Orion deep-space exploration vehicle.
From pilots and engineers, to scientists and medical doctors, NASA selects qualified astronaut candidates from a diverse pool of US citizens with wide variety of backgrounds. "This next group of American space explorers will inspire the Mars generation to reach for new heights, and help us realise the goal of putting boot prints on the Red Planet," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
"Those selected for this service will fly on US made spacecraft from American soil, advance critical science and research aboard the International Space Station, and help push the boundaries of technology in the proving ground of deep space," said Bolden.
The space agency is guiding an unprecedented transition to commercial spacecraft for crew and cargo transport to the space station, NASA said. Flights in Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon will facilitate adding a seventh crew member to each station mission, effectively doubling the amount of time astronauts will be able to devote to research in space.
Future station crew members will continue the vital work advanced during the last 15 years of continuous human habitation aboard the orbiting laboratory, expanding scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies. This work will include building on the regular six-month missions and this year's one-year mission, currently underway aboard the station, which is striving for research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space.
In addition, NASA's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, now in development, will launch astronauts on missions to the proving ground of lunar orbit where NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment before moving on to longer duration missions on its journey to Mars.
To date, NASA has selected more than 300 astronauts to fly on its increasingly challenging missions to explore space and benefit life on Earth.
Astronaut candidates must have earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. Candidates also must have at least three years of related, progressively responsible professional experience, or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft.