NASA has eight new astronauts—its first new batch in four years. Among the lucky candidates: the first female fighter pilot to become an astronaut in nearly two decades. A female helicopter pilot also is in the group. In fact, four of the eight are women, the highest percentage of female astronaut candidates ever selected by NASA. The announcement today comes on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first American woman in space, Sally Ride. She died last summer.
The eight were chosen from more than 6,000 applications—the second largest number ever received. They will report for duty in Houston in August, joining the 49 astronauts currently at NASA. NASA's administrator says these new candidates will help lead the first human mission to an asteroid in the 2020s, and then Mars, sometime in the following decade. They also may be among the first to fly to the space station aboard commercial spacecraft launched from the US. "These new space explorers asked to join NASA because they know we're doing big, bold things here—developing missions to go farther into space than ever before," he said in a statement. (Read more astronauts stories.)