“You are the best of us”: NASA just announced America’s most competitive class of astronauts

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More than 18,300 candidates applied to be astronauts in NASA’s latest class—beating the record of 8,000 applicants in 1978—and only 12 got the job. They found out on May 25. Today (June 7), they were presented to the world at a ceremony at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The ceremony was live-streamed and attended by US vice president Mike Pence. He welcomed the select group of space recruits and expressed admiration for their many accomplishments, saying, “You are the best of us…You carry the hopes and dreams of Americans on your shoulders.”

In addition to praising the newest astronaut class, Pence articulated the administration’s vision for the final frontier, announcing that Donald Trump will relaunch the National Space Council in Washington, DC to “re-energize the pioneering spirit of America” in space. “Under president Trump, America will lead in space once again and the world will marvel,” Pence said.

Investing in space research and exploration will strengthen national security, the economy, and education, according to the vice president. Pence noted that the space recruits all had a background in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), and said he hoped their efforts and accomplishments will inspire more American students to specialize in these subjects.

The group of seven men and five women come from a range of STEM backgrounds. All of them have studied and worked hard and traveled far—they have advanced degrees, adventurous spirits, lots of curiosity, and exceptional resumes, individually and cumulatively.

Jessica Watkins has a doctorate in geology from UCLA and worked on the Mars Science Laboratory rover. Meanwhile, Zena Cardman has done ecological research in the Arctic and Antarctic. Cardman laughed during the ceremony as she pointed out her proud mother in the front row and said, “My mom used to say, ‘At least you’re not going to space for now.'”

That will change. The recruits start in August and will leave behind their old jobs, possibly to become the first humans on Mars.

For Jonny Kim, that means leaving his residency as a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. Warren “Woody” Hoburg, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, will give up his gig teaching at MIT.  And Robb Kulin, once an ice driller in Antarctica, will give up his work as an engineer at SpaceX.

The military is losing people too. Kayla Barron, a lieutenant, will quit the Navy and put her background in nuclear engineering to use in the universe. Also from the Navy, systems engineer lieutenant commander Matt Dominick.

Meanwhile, Aerospace engineer Major Jasmin Moghbeli will leave the Marines. Frank Rubio, a major in the US army, physician and flight surgeon, is also headed for space, as is  fighter pilot Raja Chari, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.

The space recruits all spoke briefly at the ceremony but none as enthusiastically as Chari. He looks forward to the challenges at NASA and believes in human scientific potential. “We do things that are hard and then we crush it,” Chari said.