Today, NASA and Canada’s newest class of astronaut candidates graduated to full astronaut status in Houston, making them officially eligible to be assigned to upcoming missions to space. This latest class, nicknamed the Turtles, could potentially fly to the International Space Station on newly developed commercial vehicles, or they could even be assigned to future flights to the surface of the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
“They represent the first wave of NASA’s Artemis generation astronauts,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a ceremony presenting the Turtle class. “I want to repeat that. This is the Artemis generation.”
The Turtle class consists of seven men and six women. Two were selected by the Canadian Space Agency in 2017, while the rest were selected by NASA the same year. NASA had originally selected 12 individuals in its Turtle class, but one candidate had to drop out before graduating for unknown reasons. The space agency picked its group from a pool of nearly 18,300 hopefuls who applied to be astronauts when the agency put a call out for submissions in 2016. NASA looks for specific requirements when selecting astronaut candidates, including degrees in science or engineering, as well as certain types of flight experience.
After more than two years of training at NASA, the Turtles all received their astronaut pins today onstage at Johnson Space Center in Houston. As each candidate walked up to receive his or her pin, a fellow Turtle introduced their newly promoted teammate, lavishing the individual with lots of praise. “The reason I want to go to space with Woody isn’t just because he’s brilliant, which he is, but it’s because he carries his brilliance in such a way that you don’t feel like you’re an idiot when you’re around him, which I guarantee you that 99 percent of the people in this room are compared to him,” NASA astronaut Raja Chari said of his fellow Turtle, Warren “Woody” Hoburg.
Now, the Turtles will wait for their first crew assignments, which could take some time. NASA’s previous astronaut class, selected in 2013, are just now starting to fly. (For the record, their class nickname was “Eight Balls” because there were eight of them.) Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are from that class and both are currently on board the International Space Station on their first missions to space. The two have already made history while on board, too. Koch now holds the record for longest continuous spaceflight by a woman, and both Koch and Meir performed the first all-female spacewalk in October.
While it may be a few years before they fly, the Turtles could be riding on some brand-new space vehicles in the future. Both SpaceX and Boeing have been developing new commercial spacecraft to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and those vehicles may finally become operational this year. In the meantime, NASA is still forging ahead with its Artemis program, an endeavor to send the first woman to the Moon by 2024. NASA has not yet announced which astronauts it hopes to send for that first mission or any follow-up Artemis missions to the Moon. But it seems likely that some of these astronauts could be considered for future lunar excursions.
Some of NASA’s current astronauts wished the Turtles well and also suggested that they could look forward to trips to the Moon. “We’re sorry we couldn’t be there to celebrate this achievement with you in person today, but we’ve been busy out here on the International Space Station, getting it ready for you guys who arrive, and continue doing lots of science, spacewalks, and upgrades,” Christina Koch said during a prerecorded video from the International Space Station. “You’re going to love the view looking down at our beautiful Earth and out at the Moon.”