CAPE CANAVERAL - Just call them "The Great Eight."
Thirty-five years after selecting its first class of space shuttleastronauts in 1978 - the "Thirty-Five New Guys" - NASA on Monday introduced thefour men and four women who make up the Astronaut Class of 2013.
Talk about stiff competition. The eight were selected from more than 6,300applicants - the highest number since more than 8,000 vied for those 35 slotsin 1978.
There's an Army doctor who worked covert special operations in Iraq,Afghanistan and Africa.
There's an experienced aquanaut and under-ice diver who has done fieldworkin Antarctica and now is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
NASA astronaut Mike Foreman, who gained entry to the Astronaut Office in1998 after his eighth application, said the quality of the newest class isdauntingly impressive.
"Personally, I'm just glad I'm not competing for a spot today," saidForeman, a veteran of two space shuttle missions. "These people are just likesuper-human people to me."
The new "astronaut candidates" will report to Houston in early August and begina year of basic training - a step that must be completed successfully to be puton flight status and be made eligible for selection to a crew.
The United States currently doesn't have a spacecraft to fly its ownastronauts, relying instead on Russia. But potential future missions includeflights to the International Space Station on U.S. commercial space taxis; orexploration missions to destinations that could include asteroids, the moon orMars.
The class includes:
• Josh Cassada, 39: A test pilot with combat experience, Cassada is aphysicist with a PhD. and an entrepreneur. He co-founded Quantum Opus, astart-up that provides researchers with high-speed photon detectors.
• Victor Glover, 37: A test pilot with combat experience, Glover is aNavy lieutenant commander who holds three advanced degrees. Glover was a NCAADivision 1 wrestler and football player. He is serving as a Navy LegislativeFellow in the U.S. Congress.
• Tyler "Nick" Hague, 37: A test pilot with combat experience, Hagueholds bachelor's and master's degrees in aeronautical engineering. He workswith the Department of Defense as Deputy Chief of the Joint ImprovisedExplosive Device Defeat Organization.
• Christina Hammock, 34: Hammock holds bachelor's degrees inelectrical engineering and physics, a master's in electrical engineering, andshe worked in x-ray detection at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center inGreenbelt, Md. She completed three scientific expeditions to Greenland andAntarctica. Now she is the Station Chief in American Samoa for the NationalOceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
• Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35: A military test pilot with combatexperience, Mann holds bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanicalengineering. The Marine Corps major now is serving as an Integrated ProductTeam Leader at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Md. She also is ascuba diver who was captain of the Naval Academy's women's soccer team.
• Anne McClain, 34: An Army helicopter pilot, McClain earned abachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, a master's in public health, and amaster's degree in international security. She was a member of the U.S.National Women's Rugby Team, flew combat missions and is a recent graduate ofU.S. Naval Test Pilot School.
• Jessica Meir, 35: A civilian scientist, Meir holds a bachelor'sdegree in biology, a master's in international space studies and a doctorate inmarine biology. An aquanaut and under-ice diver, Meir has done fieldwork inAntarctica. Currently, Meir is Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at HarvardMedical School.
• Andrew Morgan, 37: An Army medical doctor, Morgan earned abachelor's degree in environmental engineering and also is a medical doctor.Morgan is an experienced emergency physician and served as a flight surgeon forthe Army special operations community. He jumped with the Army Golden Knightsparachute team and is completing a sports medicine fellowship.
The Class of 2013 has the highest percentage of women ever. Veteran NASAastronaut Janet Kavandi, director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson SpaceCenter in Houston, said the gender split was not by design. "These were themost qualified people that we interviewed. I'm glad, I'm happy it turned outthat way. But we weren't seeking that when we started out."