WASHINGTON, June 17 (Xinhua) -- U.S. space agency NASA said Monday it has selected eight new astronauts for future missions to low-Earth orbit, an asteroid and even Mars.
The eight candidates, all in their 30s, were chosen from more than 6,000 applications NASA received last year. Half of them are women, making this the highest percentage of female astronaut candidates ever selected for a class.
NASA said the candidates could also be the first to launch from U.S. soil on commercial American spacecraft since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.
"They're excited about the science we're doing on the International Space Station and our plan to launch from U.S. soil to there on spacecraft built by American companies," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "And they're ready to help lead the first human mission to an asteroid and then on to Mars."
The new astronaut candidates will begin training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston in August.
All four men have U.S. military backgrounds, including former naval aviator Josh Cassada, 39; navy lieutenant commander and F/A 18 pilot Victor Glover, 37; air force lieutenant colonel Tyler Hague, 37; and Andrew Morgan, 37, who is an army major and physician of emergency medicine.
The four women are Christina Hammock, 34, who is National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Station Chief in American Samoa; Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, a Marine Corps major and F/ A 18 pilot; Anne McClain, 34, an army major and OH-58 helicopter pilot; and Jessica Meir, 35, an assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School.