NASA's New Class of Astronauts Had More Than Twice the Record Number of Applicants

Monday, 22 February 2016 - 12:10PM
Science News
Monday, 22 February 2016 - 12:10PM
NASA's New Class of Astronauts Had More Than Twice the Record Number of Applicants
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The next generation of astronauts will be picked from a more selective pool of applicants than ever before, and it's all because of Mark Watney. The applications for NASA's new class of astronauts closed in February, and this year, a whopping 18,300 NASA hopefuls applied to be spacewalkers, of which a mere fourteen will be chosen. This means the acceptance rate is less than .08%, which is approximately 50 times more competitive than acceptance to Harvard Medical School. 

This is a bigger applicant pool than NASA has ever seen before, by far. The record before this year was only 8,000, and for the last cycle in 2012, only 6,300 people put applications in. It's impossible to say for certain why this number would have increased nearly threefold in only a few years, but it's probably safe to assume that NASA is more popular and accessible than ever before as a result of increased public engagement. Their presence on social media is well-documented, between hilarious song parodies and cute conversations with the Philae lander on Twitter, and as a result of huge accomplishments like the comet landing, Pluto flyby, and discovery of water on Mars, Americans are arguably more fascinated by space right now than they have been since the moon landings. And it doesn't hurt that NASA very overtly hitched its wagon to the marketing campaign for The Martian, which has become wildly popular and paints NASA in a glowing, inspirational light.

The actual requirements aren't as stringent as you might think; applicants need to have either three years of professional experience in a related field (usually the sciences, but educators are also encouraged to apply) or its equivalent (a PhD is three years, a Masters degree is one). Unless you're looking to be a pilot, that is, and then 1,000 hours of in-command flying time, usually in the military. 
There are also several physical requirements, as spaceflight incredibly taxing on the body. Candidates need to be taller than 5'1" and shorter than 6'3", they need to have corrected 20/20 vision, and you need to be physically fit, with a 140/90 sitting blood pressure. There will also be intense physical testing for the candidates that are accepted, such as treading water for ten minutes in a flight suit.

However, the incredibly large applicant pool and the long qualification process means that it's much more difficult to get in than to be able to apply. Out of these 18,300 applicants, only 500 of the most qualified will even have their references checked, and 120 (less than .7% of the applicant pool) are brought to the Johnson Space Center for interviews. 

Here's the full schedule for the application process:

February–September 2016
Qualified Applications reviewed to determine Highly Qualified applicants. Qualifications Inquiry form sent to Supervisors/References and civilian applicants contacted by mail to obtain an FAA medical exam.
October–December 2016
Highly Qualified applications reviewed to determine Interviewees
February-April 2017
Interviewees brought to JSC for initial interview, medical evaluation, and orientation. Interviewees will be selected from the Highly Qualified group and contacted on a week-by-week basis.
May 2017
Finalists determined
June 2017
Astronaut Candidate Class of 2015 announced
August 2017
Astronaut Candidate Class of 2015 reports to the Johnson Space Center 

Via Business Insider.
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