12,000 people apply for NASA’s next class of astronauts, with plans to reach Mars

(WASHINGTON) — More than 12,000 people applied to be a member of NASA’s next class of astronauts, which has plans to send the first woman to the Moon by 2024 and first humans to Mars in the 2030s

Applications opened for the Artemis program at the beginning of March, making the first time in four years NASA was hiring for astronauts.

Since then, people from every U.S. state, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories applied, according to a press release from NASA issued Wednesday.

The number of applications was the second-highest the agency had ever received. The all-time high is 18,300 applications, which was set by the most recent class of astronauts who graduated in January.

Those chosen will be part of a new group to explore the Moon and “take humanity’s next giant leap: human missions to Mars,” according to NASA.

“We’ve entered a bold new era of space exploration with the Artemis program, and we are thrilled to see so many incredible Americans apply to join us,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in statement.

The agency’s Astronaut Selection Board is still in the early phases of the process. The most qualified candidates will be invited to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for final interviews and medical tests.

NASA expects to introduce the new astronauts in the summer of 2021. The listed salary range was $104,898 to $161,141 per year, according to the government website.

Those selected will go through about two years of initial skills training, including spacewalking, robotics, and spacecraft systems, before launching into space. From there, the class will live and work aboard the International Space Station at 250 miles above Earth, taking part in experiments that prepare them for the Moon and Mars.

The new class plans to send the first woman and next man to the Moon at the beginning of 2024. That exploration is aimed to set up the next missions: sending the first humans to Mars in 2030.

“We’re able to build such a strong astronaut corps at NASA because we have such a strong pool of applicants to choose from,” Anne Roemer, manager of the Astronaut Selection Board, said in a statement. “It’s always amazing to see the diversity of education, experience and skills that are represented in our applicants.”

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