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Pence and NASA astronaut candidates
Vice President Mike Pence addresses NASA’s newly named astronaut candidates. (NASA via YouTube)

More than 18,300 people applied to be part of NASA’s astronaut corps, and today NASA unveiled this year’s class of seven men and five women.

The Class of 2017’s astronaut candidates include:

  • Kayla Barron of Richland, Wash., a Navy lieutenant and nuclear engineer.
  • Zena Cardman of Williamsburg, Va., a marine scientist who has participated in NASA analog missions and is now a researcher at Penn State.
  • Raja Chari of Cedar Falls, Iowa, an Air Force colonel and astronautical engineer.
  • Matthew Dominick of Wheat Ridge, Colo., an electrical and systems engineer and lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy.
  • Bob Hines of Harrisburg, Pa., an aerospace engineer and research pilot for Johnson Space Center.
  • Warren (Woody) Hoburg of Pittsburgh, an electrical engineer and MIT professor.
  • Jonny Kim of Los Angeles, a physician and former Navy SEAL.
  • Robb Kulin of Anchorage, Alaska, a mechanical engineer and SpaceX launch chief engineer.
  • Jasmin Moghbeli of Baldwin, N.Y., an aerospace engineer and avionics officer for the Marine Corps.
  • Loral O’Hara of Houston, a research engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
  • Frank Rubio of Miami, a physician and battalion surgeon for the U.S. Army.
  • Jessica Watkins of Lafayette, Colo., a geologist at Caltech.

Barron is the only candidate who considers the Evergreen State her home. Kulin will be the first astronaut coming to NASA from SpaceX. And Watkins has been part of the team for NASA’s Curiosity rover mission on Mars.

“We intend to send her to Mars one day, folks,” Brian Kelly, director of flight operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said when he introduced Watkins. For more about the Class of 2017, check out NASA’s biographies.

Vice President Mike Pence joined NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other dignitaries in welcoming the new astronaut class at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“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,” Pence said. “These are 12 men and women whose personal excellence, whose personal courage will carry our nation to even greater heights of discovery, and who I know will inspire our children and our grandchildren every bit as much as your forebears have done so in this storied American program.”

Pence took the occasion to pass along congratulations from President Donald Trump, who he said was “firmly committed to NASA’s mission: leading America in space.”

The vice president noted that he’ll be chairing a National Space Council to advise the president on space policy. “NASA will have the resources and support you need to continue to make history,” he promised.

Pence said he’d be spending part of his birthday touring Mission Control and listening to briefings about human spaceflight operations.

“Godspeed to the Class of 2017,” Pence said. “May God guide you and bless you.”

The Class of 2017’s selection opens the way for a two- to three-year astronaut training period that begins in August.

As they learn the ropes, the candidates will go through survival training, get familiar with the ins and outs of the International Space Station and learn to speak Russian.

The astronauts will prepare for flights aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, the commercial space taxis being developed by SpaceX and Boeing, and NASA’s Orion deep-space exploration spacecraft.

“Orion will be capable of carrying astronauts on diverse expeditions beyond Earth’s orbit – ushering in a new era of human space exploration,” NASA said in a post.

NASA’s exploration plans are in a state of flux, due in part to the changes in the White House, but the Trump administration is reportedly settling on a timetable that would send astronauts to the vicinity of the moon in the 2020s, and to Mars and its moons in the 2030s.

If that schedule holds, at least some of the members of the Class of 2017 are likely to go on those deep-space journeys.

NASA selects a new class of astronauts every three to five years. The dozen new astronauts were chosen after more than a year of vetting.

Like most federal agencies, NASA requires job applicants to be U.S. citizens. Beyond that, the space agency wants applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, the physical sciences or related fields, plus at least three years of on-the-job experience — which could be subbed out if they have 1,000 hours of piloting jet aircraft.

Applicants should be ready to pass the physical exam as well. They should have good blood pressure, stand between 5-foot-2 inches and 6-foot-3 and have 20/20 vision, although if you’re not blessed with perfect vision, NASA says it’s OK to get laser eye surgery.

NASA says an astronaut’s salary starts at more than $66,000 a year and can range upward to nearly $145,000 based on experience.

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