On Wednesday, NASA announced the selection of a new astronaut class of twelve men and women who may be chosen for the first Orion crews upon completion of their initial training. These twelve new astronaut-trainees include six military officers, a marine biologist who has served on scientific missions in the Antarctic, a geologist who has worked with the Curiosity Rover team, and a SpaceX engineer who has helped designed rockets and spacecraft that are used by NASA.
“We do things because they are hard, and then we crush it,” said one of the new astronauts, an Air Force lieutenant colonel named Raja Chari. Chari’s background includes work as a test pilot.
Vice President Mike Pence attended the ceremony at which the new astronaut class was announced. He told the new astronauts, “You are the 12 who made it through, you have joined the elites, you are the best of us. You carry on your shoulders the hopes and dreams of the American people.”
Some of these new astronaut candidates, as they are formally called, may be among the first to walk on Mars as NASA continues to pursue the plan it calls the Journey to Mars. However, a few watchers have expressed concern that any hopes they hold now may be crushed by a bureaucracy within NASA that often seems reluctant to take on risk.
“So, the question is, will they be employed as explorers or abused as guinea pigs? … Astronauts should be explorers, not guinea pigs,” Mars Society president Robert Zubrin said in a post on his Facebook page. He has often criticized the Journey to Mars plan as not being much of a plan at all.
However, the fact that NASA received a record 18,000 applications may indicate that public support for NASA and journeys to Mars of any sort is growing thanks to the efforts of organizations like the Mars Society and the attention brought by Mars One’s media blitz of a few years ago. These efforts have effectively made Mars “cool” in a way that it simply hasn’t been in past decades. NASA may have received applications from people who never seriously considered applying in the past but now want to become more involved in space exploration.
The names of the new NASA astronaut candidates are Raja Chari, 39; Kayla Barron, 29; Zena Cardman, 29; Matthew Dominick, 35; Bob Hines, 42; Warren “Woody” Hoburg, 31; Dr. Jonny Kim, 33; Robb Kulin, 33; Jasmin Moghbeli, 33; Loral O’Hara, 34; Dr. Francisco “Frank” Rubio, 41; and Jessica Watkins, 29. If any of them become one of the first to walk on Mars, they could become as much household names as John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.