NASA's New Astronauts: Half Women, None Alive for the Moon Landing

Categories: NASA

There are eight new astronaut trainees, half are women and none were alive when the stuff Wolfe wrote about happened.
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There was a generation of kids who grew up idolizing the astronauts. The men of the Mercury missions, the Apollo crews -- the guys who risked everything, put it all on the line to beat the Russians and launch into outer space.

John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong -- these guys were national heroes, the "single combat warriors" Tom Wolfe wrote about in The Right Stuff.

In 1978, the kids that had spent their childhoods in awe of the men who went from the earth to the moon were big enough to try and become astronauts themselves. That year NASA had more than 8,000 applicants, the most in the history of the program, who wanted to be astronauts.

They chose 35 of them, and Sally Ride filled one of those spots, the first woman in the United States to get to outer space. (Say what you will about the Soviets, but they were ahead on this one. Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963.)

For the past year and a half, NASA has again been looking for some people with "the right stuff" for the program and despite everything - despite scrapping plans to go back to the moon, and the budget cuts and the end of the space shuttle program - they got their second largest number of applicants ever. In choosing who would fill the eight spots for astronaut trainees, NASA officials got to draw from more than 6,000 applicants, according to a NASA release.

The applicants were winnowed down to a pool of 120 who qualified for initial interviews. Then they cut that down 49 candidates who were run through physical and psychological tests and another interview, according to the Christian Science Monitor. (In our head that final interview looks like the pageant interview from Miss Congeniality, but odds are good it was a little more serious than that, and minus the swimsuit competition.)

They ended up selecting four women and four men, the highest ratio of women selected for a trainee group in the space agency's history. This round of selection also marked the first time the folks over at NASA were looking at applicants who didn't necessarily watch Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the moon, who may not have been alive when the Apollo 13 mission got into trouble and Jim Lovell radioed in, "Houston, we have a problem." Not one of the final eight selected -- their selection was announced Monday -- was even born when Alan Shepard became the first American to travel in space.

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