The next class of astronauts picked by NASA could be the first to go to Mars.
NASA put out a call Wednesday announcing that the space agency would begin accepting applications for the new class of astronaut candidates on Dec. 14, with a final decision to be made in 2017.
“The class of 2017 could very well include the first people to step foot on Mars,” NASA astronaut Anne McClain, a member of the 2013 astronaut class, told Mashable in an interview. “It could be our class, it could be their class, it could be after. It’s an exciting time.”
NASA plans to send people to the vicinity of Mars by the 2030s, with a mission actually bringing people to the surface of the red planet sometime later.
If you’re thinking of applying to be one of the newest batch of American space explorers, you should know that there isn’t one right way to become an astronaut.
NASA has accepted people from all walks of life as astronaut candidates in the past, and there are just three main requirements for those hoping to become official NASA spacefarers: Viable candidates need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a field of science, technology, engineering or math; have three years of relevant experience in a related field and pass a NASA physical.
McClain’s class of astronauts, for example, includes multiple members of the military, scientists, engineers and doctors. Eight people were chosen for that class — four women and four men.
“There’s no paved path, there’s no right thing to say on an application, just be yourself, be yourself, be yourself,” McClain said.
Viable candidates also need to meet some physical requirements. Astronaut candidates must be between 62 and 75 inches tall while standing and have correctable 20/20 vision in both eyes (corrective eye surgery is okay) and blood pressure can’t be above 140/90 while sitting, NASA said.
NASA will accept applications from Dec. 14 to mid-February, giving interested astronaut hopefuls plenty of time to prepare their paperwork and apply through usajobs.gov.
According to a timeline provided by NASA, from February 2016 to September, applicants will be evaluated and references will be contacted. Civilian (non-military) applicants chosen for this step of the process will also be asked to take a Federal Aviation Administration medical exam, NASA said.
Between February 2017 and April, highly qualified applicants selected for interviews will travel to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for “initial interview, medical evaluation, and orientation,” NASA said. By May 2017, the space agency plans to have a list of finalists narrowed down, and in June 2017, NASA plans to announce those chosen for the astronaut class of 2015.
McClain has a few words of advice for people planning to apply for this astronaut class cycle.
“Be very detail-oriented and be thorough in explaining your experiences,” she said. “Every experience is beneficial, so there’s kind of a misnomer out there that we’re only concerned with academics. Really, what people do in their free time, we want to look at too because all those things contribute to being a really good member of a long-duration spaceflight team.”