NASA introduces 12 new astronauts

Last Updated Jun 7, 2017 6:32 PM EDT

Looking ahead to a new era of exploration in low-Earth orbit and beyond, NASA named 12 new astronauts Wednesday, five women and seven men selected from a record pool of more than 18,300 applicants.

Vice President Mike Pence and Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, introduced the new astronaut candidates during a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Pence, who described himself as a "lifelong NASA fan," said, "I can't tell you how privileged and honored I feel today to be able to congratulate the newest class of American heroes, the 2017 class of America's astronauts."

He also offered assurances that the Trump administration remains "firmly committed to NASA's noble mission — leading America in space."

"We couldn't go anywhere without the extraordinary men and women of NASA," Pence said.

The new class of astronauts includes a physician, a surgeon, two geologists, an oceanography engineer, a electrical engineering professor, a SpaceX senior manager, four veteran test pilots and a nuclear engineer. Three candidates hold degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and three graduated from military academies.

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The 2017 NASA Astronaut Class: (Front row, from left) Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Jonny Kim, Raji Chari and Loral O' Hara. (Back row, from left) Frank Rubio, Matthew Dominick, Warren Hoburg, Robb Kulin, Kayla Barron, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins.

Robert Markowitz / NASA

"We look forward to the energy and talent of these astronauts fueling our exciting future of discovery, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in prepared remarks. "We are going to keep them busy. These candidates are an important addition to the NASA family and the nation's human spaceflight team."

The new astronaut candidates must complete two years of intensive training at the Johnson Space Center before they will be qualified for assignment to future space missions, joining 44 other active-duty astronauts already on the NASA roster.

Possible assignments for the new hires include flights to the International Space Station aboard new commercial crew ferry ships and eventual flights the vicinity of the moon and eventually Mars using NASA's Orion spacecraft and heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket.

"These women and men deserve our enthusiastic congratulations," Ellen Ochoa, director of the Johnson Space Center and a veteran shuttle astronaut, said in a statement. "We here at NASA are excited to welcome them to the team and look forward to working with them to inspire the next generation of explorers."

The new astronaut candidates are:

-- Kayla Barron, hometown: Richland, Washington; current residence: Annapolis, Maryland; U.S. Naval Academy graduate, master's in nuclear engineering from the University of Cambridge, England; currently serves as Flag Aide for the Superintendent of the Naval Academy

-- Zena Cardman, Williamsburg, Virginia; current residence: State College, Pennsylvania; National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow with a master's degree in marine science; currently completing a doctorate in geoscience at Pennsylvania State University

-- Air Force Lt. Col. Raja Chari, Cedar Falls, Iowa; current residence: Lancaster, California; U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, U.S. Navy test pilot school graduate; master's in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron

-- Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Dominick, Wheat Ridge, Colorado; current residence: stationed in Japan; Navy test pilot school, master's in systems engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School; Navy strike flighter squadron 115

-- Bob Hines, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; current residence: Houston; NASA research pilot at the Johnson Space Center; U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School graduate; master's in aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama

-- Warren "Woody" Hoburg, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; current residence: Boston; assistant professor in aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California-Berkeley

-- Jonathan Kim, Los Angeles, California; current residence: Newtron, Massachusetts; resident physician for Partners Healthcare at Massachusetts General Hospital; active duty reserve with the U.S. Navy; doctorate of medicine from Harvard

-- Robb Kulin, Anchorage, Alaska; current residence: Redondo Beach, California; senior manager for flight reliability at SpaceX; masters in materials science; Ph.D. in engineering from the University of California-San Diego

--Marine Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli, Baldwin, New York; current residence: Yuma, Arizona; quality assurance and avionics officer; master's in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School; graduate of the U.S. Navy Test Pilot school

-- Loral O'Hara, Sugar Land, Texas; current residence: Woods Hole, Massachusetts; research engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; master's degree in propulsion and fluid Dynamics from Purdue University

-- U.S. Army Maj. Francisco Rubio, Miami, Florida; current residence: Colorado Springs, Colorado; surgeon for the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (airborne); U.S. Military Academy graduate; doctorate of medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

-- Jessica Watkins, Lafayette, Colorado; current residence: Pasadena, California; post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology; Ph.D. in geology from the University of California-Los Angeles

NASA plans to operate the International Space Station through at least 2024. Astronauts currently fly to and from the station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, but Boeing and SpaceX are both building new U.S. ferry craft for NASA that are expected to begin flying next year.

At the same time, the agency is developing the Orion and the huge SLS rocket to carry astronauts back to the vicinity of the moon in the early 2020s and possibly on to Mars, to either orbit or land on the red planet, in the mid 2030s.

At least some of the new astronauts likely will fly to the station aboard the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft while some may eventually find their way aboard the Orion spacecraft for deep space voyages.

But they will need to be patient. Unlike the shuttle program, which launched a half-dozen astronauts at once several times each year, the flight rate for the new spacecraft will be much lower, with longer periods between launches. Only a handful of NASA astronauts can expect to fly in any given year.

But unlike a typical short-duration shuttle mission, the new astronauts can expect long stays in space, either aboard the station or on deep space voyages, whenever they get a chance to fly.

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NASA's 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class stopped for a selfie while getting fitted for flight suits at Ellington Airport near NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA
  • William Harwood

    Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He covered 129 space shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia."