The figures are pretty incredible, and it means that those 14 chosen by NASA will have been though one of the toughest application processes around.
By way of comparison Harvard accepted 5.9% of applicants in 2014. NASA received a record breaking number of applications for just 14 astronaut positions, which means the acceptance rate will be 0.08%.
Record breaking number of applications to become an astronaut
The previous record of 8,000 applications pales into comparison with this year’s 18,300-plus. Only 6,300 people applied to become a NASA astronaut in 2012, and that was the second largest number in history.
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Renewed interest in space exploration is due in part to the fact that NASA has fully embraced social media in the past few years. Over the course of 2015 the space agency released a steady stream of space-related information, and the viewing public went wild for it.
It also helps that there have been major advances in space exploration of late. The New Horizons mission made the first flyby of the Pluto system, stoking excitement about space exploration around the world.
Interest in space exploration skyrockets in 2015
Soon after NASA carried out a marketing campaign based around “The Martian,” a blockbuster movie starring Matt Damon as an astronaut who gets stuck on Mars. No one knows when the space agency will actually send astronauts to the Red Planet, but Hollywood certainly did its part in stoking interest in space.
As it stands NASA has a low number of active astronauts due to the fact that the Space Shuttle program was shut down in 2011. Now there is a new wave of planned space exploration missions, and the space agency needs more staff.
Applicants will have to wait 18 months to complete the process, and successful candidates then have to go through a couple of years of training. The timing is intriguing due to rumors that the first manned mission to Mars could launch in the early 2030s.
Could these NASA astronauts be the first humans on Mars?
This round of new astronauts will be ready to train for missions around 2020, and no one knows when the space agency will take in more astronauts. This intake could be the first humans to walk on Mars.
Although lots of people have the basic qualifications necessary to undergo training, applicants do need to have science degrees and have worked in flight, lab work, or teaching. It seems likely that plenty of those 18,300 applicants won’t have the right skills.
Lots of applicants will be filtered out before around 500 applications are checked. Usually there are only 120 candidates granted an interview at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Amazingly there would be less than a 0.7% chance of even getting an interview, assuming that every candidate boasted an equally relevant curriculum vitae. However that shouldn’t discourage the applicants. After all if no one ever took risks we wouldn’t be out there exploring space.
Alongside planning further space exploration missions, NASA is working on a new space telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to launch in 2018, and has been called the most ambitious space telescope in history.
The huge telescope has almost been scrapped on a couple of occasions due to budget overruns and engineering issues, but it now seems likely to launch in a couple of years. It should send back a huge number of new images of faraway worlds, providing some perfect fodder for the NASA Instagram account.