NASA may have just found the next man to walk on the moon — or the first woman to land on Mars — or someone who can float above the Earth and make repairs to the International Space Station.Wednesday was the deadline for submitting an application to join the next class of astronauts.NASA says more than 12,000 people applied — the largest number in three years — proving that those who believe Americans have lost interest in space are wrong.“We’ve entered a bold new era of space exploration with the Artemis program, and we are thrilled to see so many incredible Americans apply to join us,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday. “The next class of Artemis Generation astronauts will help us explore more of the moon than ever before and lead us to the red planet.”The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, Feb. 15, 2020.Artemis is the name NASA has given to its next big era in space exploration — and among the 12,000 would-be astronauts could be a name that becomes as legendary as John Glenn, the pioneering Gemini program, Neil Armstrong and Apollo.NASA received applications from every one of the 50 states and four U.S. territories. But the odds of being picked to fly into space are remote.Candidates must have a master’s degree in science, technology, math or engineering.NASA’s Astronaut Selection Board will assess each applicant’s qualifications and invite those who pass to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for interviews and medical tests before making a final selection.The board must pare down the 12,000 hopefuls to around 12.It’s an exclusive club. Only 350 men and women have been chosen for astronaut training since the 1960s. NASA currently has 48 astronauts in the pool.FILE — A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, carrying the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program-2 mission, lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., June 25, 2019.“We’re able to build such a strong astronaut corps at NASA because we have such a strong pool of applicants to choose from,” selection board manager Anne Roemer said. “It’s always amazing to see the diversity of education, experience and skills that are represented in our applicants. We are excited to start reviewing astronaut applications to identify the next class of astronaut candidates.”So how does one person who dreams of space stand out among 12,000 other dreamers?Astronaut Kayla Barron, who was part of the NASA class of 2017, said if you’re lucky enough to qualify as a finalist, there is no reason to feel intimidated or that you can’t be yourself.“When I go into that interview room and sit at the end of this long table with all of these astronauts and senior NASA officials … what are they looking for? What do they want from me? For some reason the last thing I thought before I walked [in] the door was,  ‘Don’t make any jokes,’ ” she recalled with a laugh. “Because I was so worried I was going to say something sarcastic or whatever.”This NASA image obtained March 24, 2020, shows the city lights at the intersection of Europe and Asia as they sparkle as the International Space Station orbited 262 miles above.But when one of the panel members made a joke seemingly at Barron’s expense, she said, “I dished it right back at him. And there was this moment of silence and I was like, ‘Oh, no, that was the one I wasn’t supposed to do.’ But then [astronaut] Kjell Lindgren started laughing … everyone started laughing and it just relaxed me … just be yourself, be honest about who you are. I think that goes a long way.”When the astronauts are chosen, they will go through about two years of training in such skills as spacewalking and robotics. They must also show people skills, including leadership and teamwork — two qualities that are essential for living on the International Space Station, taking a trip to the moon or enduring a long journey to Mars.NASA expects to introduce the new astronaut candidates in the summer of 2021 with plans for a trip to the moon in 2024 and a mission to Mars in the next decade.

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