On August 20, 2013, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration welcomed and presented the eight new astronauts at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden welcomed the new astronaut candidates, saying, “For more than 50 years now…the Johnson Space Center has been the home of America’s spaceflight, and it will be your new home. They not only have the right stuff…they represent the full tapestry of America. These next generation of explorers will be among those who plan and carry out the first human missions to an asteroid or on to Mars. Their journey begins now, and the nation will be right beside them reaching for the stars.”
The astronaut candidates are Josh A. Cassada and Victor J. Glover, both lieutenant commanders in the U.S. Navy; Tyler N. “Nick” Hague, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force; Christina M. Hammock; Nicole Aunapu Mann, a major in the U.S. Marine Corps; Anne C. McClain and Andrew R. Morgan, both majors in the U.S. Army; and Jessica U. Meir.
The eight astronaut candidates were selected from a pool of more than 6,100 applicants following the completion of a rigorous selection procedure. More than one and a half years ago, NASA officials selected the top 120 candidates and invited them to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for interviews and evaluations. From there, the selection board whittled down the candidates to 49, and then conducted further tests and evaluations. From this group, the present eight were selected.
Now that selection is over, astronaut training has already begun in Houston, and the process will last for two years. The candidates are also making the transition from their present homes, to Houston. The training will prepare the astronauts for travels to new destinations in the solar system.
According to Bob Behnken, NASA chief astronaut, “Folks often wonder what they’ve signed up for after we get them to Houston. The training for this group in the near term will focus on the space station and understanding the operations on board. These candidates will all fill support roles for station crews that will be flying. They also will receive T-38 training and will get some aviation background under their belt. We will also visit the NASA centers around the country to understand all the things that go into what makes NASA what it is.”
In addition to welcoming the astronaut candidates, Bolden also spoke about the recently-updated Global Exploration Roadmap (GER), which was publicly released the same day. The GER is the culmination of the work of 12 international space agencies of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, and focuses on the shared interest in deep-space exploration.
Perhaps one of the astronauts could be part of a future crewed mission to Mars, which has been discussed at some length by the space agency. According to NASA, the logistics of a manned mission to Mars are very complex. Transit vehicles and trajectories, crew safety and stay-times, resources and equipment, as well as many other factors must be considered to run a successful crewed mission to the Red Planet. The space agency notes that every factor must be carefully considered before the launch date, because there will be no quick journey back to, or supply from, Earth should something go wrong.
While there are plenty of obstacles that may prevent this new class of astronauts from ever journeying to Mars, there are also plenty of reasons why a crewed mission to the Red Planet is a good idea. Besides our planet and the Moon, Mars is the most neighborly body in the solar system for humans and is currently the only realistic candidate for future human exploration and colonization.
Do you think NASA will ever conduct a crewed mission to Mars? Share your thoughts in the comments section.