NASA made 10 new trainee astronauts a part of its agency this Monday. The trainees include a firefighter turned Harvard professor, a former member of the national cycle team, and a pilot who led the first-ever all-woman F-22 formation in combat.
Their term will start in January at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, where they will take two years of training.
“We’re going back to the Moon, and we’re continuing on to Mars – and so today we welcome 10 new explorers,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said at an event to welcome the recruits.
“Alone, each candidate has ‘the right stuff,’ but together they represent the creed of our country: E pluribus unum – out of many, one,” he added.
The candidates lie in the range of 32 to 45. They will learn how to operate and maintain the International Space Station, train for spacewalks, develop robotics skills, safely operate a T-38 training jet, and learn Russian to communicate with their counterparts.
Once they are done with the training, they will be assigned duties in the ISS or deeper space. They might also become a part of NASA’s lunar landing project. This Artemis mission will have the first woman and person of color to set foot on lunar soil.
The applicants for the program had to be US citizens with a master’s degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field. They were also asked to take an online test. The applicants could also be the ones with a medical degree or completion of a test pilot program.
“I first became interested in becoming an astronaut at a very, very early age,” said Jessica Wittner, 38, a lieutenant commander in the US Navy who is a test pilot and aerospace engineer.
“I was that little girl in school who would play with rockets in the park by the house and loved science class.”
Other trainees included a fighter pilot Nichole Ayers who has more than 200 combat hours and is one of a few women currently flying the F-22 jet. She also led the first all-woman formation of the aircraft in combat in 2019.
Christopher Williams, 38, is an assistant professor of medical physics at Harvard University.
“I was splitting my time between helping to research better ways we can target radiation therapy for cancer, and then actually working as part of a multidisciplinary team to treat patients,” said Williams, who holds a doctorate in astrophysics from MIT and has served as a volunteer emergency medical technician and firefighter.
Anil Menon, 45, is a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force who was previously SpaceX’s first flight surgeon before an earlier stint at NASA.
A physician born to parents from India and Ukraine, he was a first responder during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, and the 2011 Reno Air Show accident.
Christina Birch, 35, has a degree in mathematics and biochemistry, and molecular biophysics, with a doctorate in biological engineering from MIT. She became a track cyclist on the US team, qualified for the Olympics, and won World Cup medals in the team pursuit and Madison race.