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Newbie 'nauts include lady Marine fighter pilot, male doctor

NASA has picked four women and four men for its latest batch of trainee astronauts - and that's the highest percentage of female space rookies ever selected for one class.

International Space Station

International Space Station ... potential new digs for plucky cosmic wanderers

The students - one of whom is the first woman fighter pilot to get onto the astronaut course in nearly two decades - scored their places from the second highest number of applications the US space agency has ever received – more than 6,100. It's been four years since the last class of cosmic cadets was assembled.

NASA said this latest group will be trained at space centres around the world, will join the 49 astronauts on the agency’s payroll and will prepare for “missions to low-Earth orbit, an asteroid and Mars”.

"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," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said.

"They’re excited about the science we’re doing on the International Space Station (ISS) and our plan to launch from US soil to there on spacecraft built by American companies. And they’re ready to help lead the first human mission to an asteroid and then on to Mars."

All eight trainee 'nauts are in their thirties, so they’ll be in at least their fifties by the time NASA is likely to be anywhere close to sending folks to the Red Planet in the 2030s. However, the agency is hoping to get onto an asteroid by the 2020s, and there’s always the ISS as an option to actually get into the cosmos.

In the meantime, the new ‘nauts will also test new spacecraft, now built by private companies such as SpaceX since NASA shut down its Shuttle programme.

The last class of astronauts officially graduated in November 2011, but none of them have reached space yet. Michael Hopkins will be the first of that group to do so when he blasts off to the ISS in September.

Aside from their gender, the latest trainees are highly educated, to say the least, and most, though not all, have some sort of military background. Two of the would-be space travelers have PhDs and four have experience as test pilots for the Navy or Air Force.

Their current jobs range from station chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in American Samoa to chief technology officer of Quantum Opus to assistant professor of anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School. One candidate attended the University of Bath and the University of Bristol in the UK, and another is currently completing a sports medicine fellowship after serving as an emergency physician and flight surgeon for the US Army.

All eight will report to the Johnson Space Centre to join NASA’s 21st astronaut class for training in August.

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

“They have diverse backgrounds and skill sets that will contribute greatly to the existing astronaut corps. Based on their incredible experiences to date, I have every confidence that they will apply their combined expertise and talents to achieve great things for NASA and this country in the pursuit of human exploration."

The full biographies of the new astronauts, as given by NASA, are:

Josh A. Cassada PhD, 39, is originally from White Bear Lake, Minn. Cassada is a former naval aviator who holds an undergraduate degree from Albion College, and advanced degrees from the University of Rochester, N.Y. Cassada is a physicist by training and currently is serving as co-founder and Chief Technology Officer for Quantum Opus.

Victor J. Glover, 37, Lt. Commander, U.S. Navy, hails from Pomona, Calif., and Prosper, Texas. He is an F/A-18 pilot and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School. Glover holds degrees from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Air University and Naval Postgraduate School. He currently is serving as a Navy Legislative Fellow in the U.S. Congress.

Tyler N. Hague (Nick), 37, Lt. Colonel, U.S. Air Force, calls Hoxie, Kan., home. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards, Calif. Hague currently is supporting the Department of Defense as Deputy Chief of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.

Christina M. Hammock, 34, calls Jacksonville, N.C. home. Hammock holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C. She currently is serving as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Station Chief in American Samoa.

Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, Major, U.S. Marine Corps, originally is from Penngrove, Calif. She is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Stanford (Calif.) University and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, Patuxent River, Md. Mann is an F/A 18 pilot, currently serving as an Integrated Product Team Lead at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Patuxent River.

Anne C. McClain, 34, Major, U.S. Army, lists her hometown as Spokane, Wash. She is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; the University of Bath and the University of Bristol, both in the United Kingdom. McClain is an OH-58 helicopter pilot, and a recent graduate of U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station, Patuxent River.

Jessica U. Meir PhD, 35 is from Caribou, Maine. She is a graduate of Brown University, has an advanced degree from the International Space University, and earned her doctorate from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Meir currently is an Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Andrew R. Morgan MD, 37, Major, U.S. Army, considers New Castle, Pa., home. Morgan is a graduate of The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and earned doctorate in medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md. He has experience as an emergency physician and flight surgeon for the Army special operations community, and currently is completing a sports medicine fellowship. ®

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