HOUSTON, Texas, -- NASA welcomed 11 new astronauts to its ranks on Friday, increasing the number of those eligible for spaceflight assignments that will one day deliver another giant leap for mankind.
The new 2017 class of astronauts could be assigned to missions headed to the International Space Station, the Moon, and ultimately Mars. NASA hopes to send the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon by 2024.
Additional missions to the moon are planned once a year with the goal of sustainable lunar exploration. Human exploration of Mars is targeted for the mid-2030s.
At the first-ever public graduation held by NASA, the 11 new astronauts received a silver pin, a tradition dating back to the Mercury 7 astronauts who were selected in 1959. They'll get a gold pin once they complete their first space flights. Two astronauts from the Canadian Space Agency also joined the celebration.
NASA's newest class of astronauts are the first to graduate since the agency announced its Artemis Program.
"These individuals represent the best of America, and what an incredible time for them to join our astronaut corps," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston where the graduation ceremony took place. "2020 will mark the return of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and will be an important year of progress for our Artemis program and missions to the Moon and beyond."
The space crusaders were selected from a record-setting pool of 18,000 applicants and went through two full years of basic training. Training included instruction, practice, and testing in spacewalking, robotics, International Space Station systems, T-38 jet proficiency, and Russian language.
There are a total of 48 astronauts in NASA's corp. available for more space exploration.
NASA is also considering plans to open the application process this spring for the next class of astronaut candidates.
NASA's newest astronauts include Kayla Barron, Zena Cardman, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Bob Hines, Warren Hoburg, Dr. Jonny Kim, Jasmin Moghbeli, Loral O'Hara, Dr. Francisco "Frank" Rubio and Jessica Watkins. You can learn more about them on NASA's website here.