Houston, June 18: NASA has selected eight new gen-next astronauts to explore new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and Mars, and for the first time ever half of the new candidates are women.
After an extensive year-and-a-half search, NASA has a new group of potential astronauts who will help the US agency push the boundaries of exploration.
Eight candidates have been selected to be NASA's newest astronaut trainees, hoping to be among those who are the first to launch from US soil on commercial American spacecraft since the retirement of the space shuttle.
The 2013 astronaut candidate class comes from the second largest number of applications NASA has received - more than 6,000.
"Half of the selectees are women, making this the highest percentage of female astronaut candidates ever selected for a class," NASA said in a statement.
The group will receive a wide array of technical training at space centers and remote locations around the globe to prepare for missions to low-Earth orbit, an asteroid and Mars.
"These new space explorers asked to join NASA because they know we're doing big, bold things here - developing missions to go farther into space than ever before," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
"They're excited about the science we're doing on the International Space Station and our plan to launch from US soil to there on spacecraft built by American companies. And they're ready to help lead the first human mission to an asteroid and then on to Mars," said Bolden.
The astronaut candidates are Josh A Cassada, 39, Chief Technology Officer for Quantum Opus, Victor J Glover, 37, a Navy Legislative Fellow in the US Congress and Tyler N Hague, 37, who is supporting the Department of Defence as Deputy Chief of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organisation.
Christina M Hammock, 34, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Station Chief in American Samoa and Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, Integrated Product Team Lead at the US Naval Air Station, Patuxent River were also among those selected.
The others are Anne C McClain, 34, an OH-58 helicopter pilot, Jessica U Meir, 35, an Assistant Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston and Andrew R Morgan, 37, who has experience as an emergency physician and flight surgeon for the Army special operations community.
The new astronaut candidates will begin training at NASA's Johnson Space Center here in August.