NASA announces new astronauts - half are women

By James Maynard , Jun 18, 2013 11:09 AM EDT

NASA has introduced the country - and the world - to its newest eight astronauts, and half of them are women. These are the first new space travelers that NASA has announced in four years. This is also the first time NASA has ever announced a group where women have achieved gender equality.

The four women include two scientists - Christina Hammock and Jessica Meir. The other two are pilots - Anne McClain flies helicopters and Major Nicole Aunapu Mann is a Marine F/A 18 pilot. The four men selected are all in the military. Victor Glover is from the Navy, Lt. Col. Tyler (Nick) Hague is an Air Force pilot, Dr. Andrew Morgan is a physician and Josh Cassada is a 39-year-old physicist.

Jessica Meir is 35 years old, has a doctorate in oceanography, and is assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School. Christina Hammock is from North Carolina. The 34-year-old is the station chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in American Somoa. Nicole Aunapu Mann graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and is a native of Penngrove, CA. Anne McClain graduated from West Point. The 34-year old originally hails from Spokane, WA.

"This year we have selected eight highly qualified individuals who have demonstrated impressive strengths academically, operationally, and physically" Janet Kavandi, director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center, said.

Coming on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the first woman in space, this announcement comes as the number of astronauts is dwindling. Without a Shuttle program, astronauts have far less chance to fly in space as part of the lengthy, but rarer, International Space Station (ISS) missions. This has caused many to leave the agency, which was left with just 49 astronauts before the new hires.

The new astronauts will likely be the first humans to travel to an asteroid in the 2020's, and Mars the following decade.

"These new space explorers asked to join NASA because they know we're doing big, bold things here - developing missions to go farther into space than ever before," Bolden said in a statement.

NASA received over 6,000 applications for the eight positions. This was the second-highest total of applicants ever received by the space agency, and the selection process took a year-and-a-half.

The new astronauts will report for work in Houston this August.

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