More Americans than ever before believe they have the right stuff to become astronauts, ABC News reports. According to NASA, it received more than 18,300 applications for the astronaut class of 2017 over the past two months. That's almost three times more than for the last class in 2012 and far more than the record 8,000 applications it received in 1978. “It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” NASA administrator Charlie Bolden says. In addition to excitement about Mars, Ars Technica credits NASA's use of social media and the portrayal of astronauts in The Martian for the record number of applications.
NASA will take the next 18 months to narrow down the applications to between eight and 14 astronaut candidates, who will go through two years of training in everything from team dynamics to the Russian language. “We have our work cut out for us with this many applications,” a NASA director of flight operations says. “But it’s heartening to know so many people recognize what a great opportunity this is to be part of NASA’s exciting mission." While interest in being an astronaut is up, actual opportunities for going into space are down by about 90%. The space shuttle retired in 2011, and Ars Technica believes it's unlikely the mission to Mars well get underway by the early 2030s. Until then, space exploration opportunities will largely be limited to trips to and from the International Space Station.