Since shutting down the Space Shuttle program in 2011, NASA has been content to make do with its existing astronauts, but the space agency announced today that it once accepting applications.

After A Four-Year Hiring Freeze, NASA Is Looking For Astronauts

NASA Astronauts present and future

Presently, NASA has 47 men and women in its astronaut corps, but that number is clearly expected to rise though NASA did not make it clear with today’s announcement how many additional hirings the agency planned to make. With the launch of Space X and other commercial space companies, NASA once again expects astronauts to travel to space from U.S. soil. Right now, the NASA astronauts that man the International Space Station are only able to reach orbit through the use of Russian Soyuz rockets.

In theory, the new hires could be involved in a manned mission to Mars. This is a touch ironic given the fact that the The Martian, starring Matt Damon, was once again the biggest draw at the box office last week. But that is fiction and the fact is the United States is getting back to space and for that NASA needs astronauts.

NASA wrote in an statement issued Wednesday that it will soon accept astronaut applications “in anticipation of returning human spaceflight launches to American soil, and in preparation for the agency’s journey to Mars.”

“With more human spacecraft in development in the United States today than at any other time in history,” NASA continued, “future astronauts will launch once again from the Space Coast of Florida on American-made commercial spacecraft, and carry out deep-space exploration missions that will advance a future human mission to Mars.”

NASA’s application window and hiring expectations

NASA will begin accepting next month on December 14 and keep the application window open until sometime in mid-February in 2016. NASA intends to select the best of the best and won’t be announcing its selections for over a year’s time with hirings expected sometime in mid-2017.

Applicants will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in math, physical science, biological science or engineering. However, a more advanced degree will likely make applicants more, as NASA says, “desirable.” Additionally, applicants will need at least three years of “related, progressively responsible experience, or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft.”

While NASA didn’t make it clear how many hires it will make, the agency does know that future astronauts will serve on one of four postings: crew of the International Space Station (ISS), NASA’s Orion deep-space exploration vehicle, or as crew on spacecraft being built by both SpaceX and Boeing.

NASA wants back in the game

“This next group of American space explorers will inspire the Mars generation to reach for new heights, and help us realize the goal of putting boot prints on the Red Planet,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a speech on Wednesday. “Those selected for this service will fly on U.S.-made spacecraft from American soil, advance critical science and research aboard the (ISS), and help push the boundaries of technology in the proving ground of deep space.”

For many of my generation the shuttering of the Space Shuttle program was a sad day as having been born in the early 1970’s, I never got a memorable moon landing nor the opportunity to share in the pride of that mission being accomplished. Watching the present state of Russian/U.S. relations also means that catching a ride on a Soyuz missile could also become a thing of the past if tensions between the two nations continues its upwards trajectory.