After a year and a half of culling through 6,100 applicants, NASA has chosen four men and four women to train to become astronauts and potentially travel to an asteroid or even Mars.
One of the astronaut trainees is a physicist and chief technology officer.
"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, in a written statementI. "They're excited about the science we're doing on the International Space Station and our plan to launch from U.S. 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."
The space agency reported that the eight-member 2013 astronaut candidate class comes from the second largest number of applications NASA has ever received. The group will receive technical training at space centers around the world to prepare for missions to low-Earth orbit, an asteroid and Mars.
In 2004, President George W. Bush called on NASA to send humans back to the moon by 2020 in a move that he said would prepare the space agency for a manned-mission to Mars.
More recently, President Barack Obama formulated a new plan that calls on NASA to build next-generation heavy-lift engines and robotics technology for use in space travel.
In April, scientists at the University of Washington reported they are working on a rocket that they say could enable astronauts to reach Mars in just 30 days. Using current technology, a round-trip human mission to Mars would take more than four years.
As soon as 2016, NASA plans to send a robotic spacecraft - still unmanned - to an asteroid. The $800 million effort will be the first U.S. mission to carry asteroid samples back to Earth.
"This year we have selected eight highly qualified individuals who have demonstrated impressive strengths academically, operationally, and physically" said Janet Kavandi, director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center, in a statement. "They have diverse backgrounds and skill sets that will contribute greatly to the existing astronaut corps. Based on their incredible experiences to date, I have every confidence that they will apply their combined expertise and talents to achieve great things for NASA and this country in the pursuit of human exploration."
The astronaut candidates will begin training at Johnson Space Center in Houston this August. They are:
Josh A. Cassada, 39, who is originally from White Bear Lake, Minn. Cassada is a former naval aviator who is a physicist by training. Today he serves as co-founder and Chief Technology Officer for Quantum Opus, which focuses on quantum optics research.
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