New NASA astronaut candidates show up in Houston to begin training

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HOUSTON – A month after being announced to the world, NASA’s ten new astronaut candidates show up for work to begin two years of training.

The four women and six men, who were chosen from a pool of more than 12,000 applicants, begin their new careers as future space station crew members and possible moon walkers on Monday January 10. They are the 23rd class of NASA trainees and the 22nd to be based at the Johnson Space Center in Houston since 1962.

“NASA’s Johnson Space Center is home to our nation’s human spaceflight program. Last November, we celebrated our 60th anniversary here in Houston, a milestone in the history of the US space program, ”said Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center. , during the ceremony on December 6 which revealed the new astronaut candidates. “Our astronaut corps puts the ‘human’ in manned spaceflight.”

Related: How to become an astronaut

Those who successfully complete the two years of instruction will join the NASA Astronaut Corps and become eligible for the International Space Station (ISS) missions and the Lunar Artemis mission.

“We have several manned spaceships, so this has never been a more exciting time to launch your career,” said NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy, a former space shuttle astronaut. “We’re very focused on building a plan for how we’re going to explore with humans, not just on the Moon, not just on Mars, but how we’re going to enter the solar system.”

“That’s what we’re focusing on right now,” Melroy said. “We’re going to train on the moon and we’re going to push, and this will be your generation.”

Related: What it’s like to become a NASA astronaut: 10 facts

Upcoming opportunities

NASA Astronaut 2021 Candidate Class: Nichole Ayers, Marcos Berríos, Christina Birch, Deniz Burnham, Luke Delaney, Andre Douglas, Jack Hathaway, Anil Menon, Christopher Williams and Jessica Wittner. (Image credit: NASA)

The training of NASA astronaut candidates (or “ascan”) falls into five broad categories: operation and maintenance of space station systems, space walking, robotics skills, piloting T-38 supersonic jets, and aircraft skills. Russian language.

Asked by collectSPACE.com what they expected the most, the new ascans gave answers as varied as their origins.

“One of the things that made me want to be an astronaut is the fact that you can do all of these different things and learn to do anything,” said Christopher Williams, a medical physicist whose research has focused on the development of image guidance techniques. for cancer treatments.

Marcos Berrios, a combat pilot in the US Air National Guard and a doctor of aeronautics and astronautics, responded in the same way.

“I really like learning new topics and concepts, so even learning Russian seems very exciting to me. Geology, learning to fly the T-38 – it’s hard for me to pick one,” said Berrios. “Going in the pool and doing spacewalk is probably at the top of the list.”

The “pool” is the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a 6.2 million gallon (23.5 million liter) tank large enough to submerge full-scale mock-ups of the main space station modules, as well as other spacecraft and payloads as needed. . Candidates learn the basics of working in the NBL while familiarizing themselves with wearing an extravehicular mobility unit or spacesuit.

Related: How astronauts prepare for the unknown in space

“I love working with my hands,” said Christina Birch, bioengineer and decorated track cyclist for the United States National Team. “I love to train on a bike, not just on a bike, and one of the things that I really can’t wait to do is be in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. To develop spacewalk skills alongside my classmates. “

Jessica Wittner, a naval aviator and test pilot in the US Navy, was drawn to the new vehicles she and her fellow candidates will learn to fly.

“We are getting to know all the systems on the ISS and eventually we will get to work with the new SLS. [Space Launch System] and Orion systems and whatever goes online. So I really think learning how it all works, how to maintain it and operate it and how to get there and come back successfully – wherever there is – I think that’s what excites me the most ” , she said.

Just being able to fly, especially using NASA’s fleet of T-38 training jets, was the most popular response among ascans. Jets are used to expose astronauts to dynamic and ruthless situations such as those they might encounter in space.

“I love flying planes. I grew up with ‘Top Gun’, the movie about Navy pilots and I love things that go fast,” said Andre Douglas, naval architect and rescue engineer at the US Coast Guard. “I dreamed of flying as a kid so I think that’s going to be a really cool skill set to have and just an experience to have.”

“I have a lot of love for aviation,” said Deniz Burnham, engineer and head of energy industry drilling projects around the world. “I have my helicopter license and my fixed-wing seaplane license, so I’m very curious about the T-38.”

Jack Hathaway, a US Navy commander with more than 2,500 hours of flight time in 30 types of aircraft, including more than 500 landings stopped by an aircraft carrier, said he was also eager to fly the T- 38, but for a different reason than some of them. his classmates with less flying experience.

“One thing I’m super excited about training is getting people to fly in the T-38,” he said. “I’ve only done this a few times in my career, taking someone flying in a tactical jet or a fast jet who’s never done it before, but just being able to share that love of flying and soar into the sky. – it’s a different world up there. “

Nichole Ayers, a U.S. Air Force major who led the first all-female F-22 fighter jet formation in combat, was also eager to share her experiences.

“I’m actually very excited to just reunite with these amazing humans in my class of astronaut candidates,” Ayers said. “Being part of the team is the most important thing for me.”

Not all new to NASA

Some of the new applicants are not entirely new to NASA or the astronaut experience. Douglas, for example, recently worked on maritime robotics, planetary defense and space exploration missions for NASA at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.

“NASA is going to need robots in the future to help us [astronauts] with a lot of exploration, ”he told collectSPACE. “There will be places that we cannot go, there will be things that we have to do that we may not want to put forward and we will need extensions of ourselves to be able to see things we can’t see. “

NASA Astronaut 2021 Candidate Class with Vanessa Wyche (fifth from left), director of the Johnson <a class=Space Center in Houston.” class=”expandable lazy-image-van optional-image” onerror=”if(this.src && this.src.indexOf(‘missing-image.svg’) !== -1){return true;};this.parentNode.replaceChild(window.missingImage(),this)” sizes=”(min-width: 1000px) 970px, calc(100vw – 40px)” data-normal=”https://vanilla.futurecdn.net/space/media/img/missing-image.svg” srcset=”https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/BT7eQvEykzsP4K6UT9n2wa-320-80.jpg 320w, https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/BT7eQvEykzsP4K6UT9n2wa-650-80.jpg 650w, https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/BT7eQvEykzsP4K6UT9n2wa-970-80.jpg 970w” data-original-mos=”https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/BT7eQvEykzsP4K6UT9n2wa.jpg” data-pin-media=”https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/BT7eQvEykzsP4K6UT9n2wa.jpg”/>

NASA Astronaut 2021 Candidate Class with Vanessa Wyche (fifth from left), director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Image credit: NASA)

Luke Delaney was flying as a research pilot at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia when he was selected to be an astronaut.

“I was only about a year and a half in Langley, but after graduating from DOD [Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps] on the government side it was a great exposure to the way NASA does business. Seeing, at a small team level, how much effort is put in and how much data and science has been accomplished was insane, “Delaney said.” Now on the transition to space, I am really excited about it and ready for this team. “

For Anil Menon, not only are the technical details of spaceflight nothing new, but neither is the Johnson Space Center. He previously served as NASA’s flight surgeon on a number of astronaut expeditions to the International Space Station, and then became SpaceX’s first flight surgeon, helping to launch the company’s first humans into the world. space in the Crew Dragon spaceship Demo-2 mission.

“The wonderful thing about SpaceX is that they expect you to be a technical expert, as well as your specialty, so I was also a flight controller, called a system operator, for the Dragon freighter. J ‘had to learn a lot about Dragon to code procedures, “Menon said.” What I’m going to do here [as an astronaut candidate] You need to know more about Dragon, but also about the vehicles of all the other trading partners. “

“I think we’re all on an equal footing here because we’ll just be sharing our different ideas on all of these different vehicles as NASA strives to move forward in Artemis, Mars missions and research support. on the space station, ”he said.

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