Today, NASA is announcing to the world its newest class of astronauts at the space agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This is the new group of people who could potentially fly on brand-new vehicles into lower Earth orbit or into deep space one day. Around a dozen lucky and incredibly talented humans will join the ranks of the astronaut corps this afternoon, which currently boasts 44 people who are eligible for flight assignments.
The newest class was handpicked from more than 18,300 hopefuls who applied between December 2015 and February 2016 — the highest amount of submissions NASA has ever received during an open call. Before this, around 8,000 was the record for most submissions in 1978. To be picked, people have to meet a certain set of criteria — such as having a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field or experience flying jet aircraft — and then go through rounds of interviews. So today’s new astronauts have gone through a lot to get to this point.
And this latest class may have the chance to ride on some entirely novel spacecraft that are currently in development. As of now, the only ride astronauts have is the Russian Soyuz rocket, which ferries people to and from the International Space Station. But both SpaceX and Boeing are working on vehicles — the Dragon and CST-100 Starliner, respectively — that will be able to take astronauts to the ISS; those are slated to start flying as early as 2018. Plus, NASA is also developing the Orion crew capsule, designed to carry people into deep space when launched on top of a new rocket called the Space Launch System; that vehicle is slated to start carrying people in the 2020s. After two years of training, the new astronaut class could be assigned to any of these new spacecraft.
Today’s announcement gets underway at 2PM ET, and it’s shaping up to be a dynamic show. Vice President Mike Pence will even be in attendance in Houston. So check back here this afternoon to see who made the cut.