NASA picks eight new astronauts that may go to asteroids and Mars

If you like space exploration, you'll want to get used to these eight faces -- odds are that you'll see at least some of them again. They represent NASA's 2013 astronaut candidate class, and they'll start training in August for a chance at going on missions to the International Space Station, asteroids and even Mars. The trainee pool is more eclectic than usual this time around. Half the picks are women, while three of the candidates come from non-military outfits such as Harvard Medical School and NOAA. Check out the full roster after the break.

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NASA Selects Next Generation of Space Explorers; Google+ Hangout Today

HOUSTON -- After an extensive year-and-a-half search, NASA has a new group of potential astronauts who will help the agency push the boundaries of exploration and travel to new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and Mars. Eight candidates have been selected to be NASA's newest astronaut trainees, hoping to be among those who are the first to launch from U.S. soil on commercial American spacecraft since the retirement of the space shuttle.

The 2013 astronaut candidate class comes from the second largest number of applications NASA has received -- more than 6,000. Half of the selectees are women, making this the highest percentage of female astronaut candidates ever selected for a class. The group will receive a wide array of technical training at space centers and remote locations around the globe to prepare for missions to low-Earth orbit, an asteroid and Mars.

"These new space explorers asked to join NASA because they know we're doing big, bold things here -- developing missions to go farther into space than ever before," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "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. And they're ready to help lead the first human mission to an asteroid and then on to Mars."

NASA will discuss the selections at 3 p.m. CDT Monday, June 17, via a Google+ Hangout.

The astronaut candidates are:

Josh A. Cassada, Ph.D., 39, is originally from White Bear Lake, Minn. Cassada is a former naval aviator who holds an undergraduate degree from Albion College, and advanced degrees from the University of Rochester, N.Y. Cassada is a physicist by training and currently is serving as co-founder and Chief Technology Officer for Quantum Opus.

Victor J. Glover, 37, Lt. Commander, U.S. Navy, hails from Pomona, Calif., and Prosper, Texas. He is an F/A-18 pilot and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards, Calif. Glover holds degrees from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Air University and the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif. He currently is serving as a Navy Legislative Fellow in the U.S. Congress.

Tyler N. (Nick) Hague, 37, Lt. Colonel, U.S. Air Force, calls Hoxie, Kan., home. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., and the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards, Calif. Hague currently is supporting the Department of Defense as Deputy Chief of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.

Christina M. Hammock, 34, calls Jacksonville, N.C., home. Hammock holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C. She currently is serving as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Station Chief in American Samoa.

Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, Major, U.S. Marine Corps, originally is from Penngrove, Calif. She is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Stanford University and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, Patuxent River, Md. Mann is an F/A 18 pilot, currently serving as an Integrated Product Team Lead at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Patuxent River.

Anne C. McClain, 34, Major, U.S. Army, lists her hometown as Spokane, Wash. She is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; the University of Bath and the University of Bristol, both in the United Kingdom. McClain is an OH-58 helicopter pilot, and a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station, Patuxent River.

Jessica U. Meir, Ph.D., 35, is from Caribou, Maine. She is a graduate of Brown University, has an advanced degree from the International Space University, and earned her doctorate from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Meir currently is an Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Andrew R. Morgan, M.D., 37, Major, U.S. Army, considers New Castle, Pa., home. Morgan is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and earned a doctorate of medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md. He has experience as an emergency physician and flight surgeon for the Army special operations community, and currently is completing a sports medicine fellowship.

The new astronaut candidates will begin training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston in August.

"This year we have selected eight highly qualified individuals who have demonstrated impressive strengths academically, operationally and physically," said Janet Kavandi, director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson. "They have diverse backgrounds and skill sets that will contribute greatly to the existing astronaut corps. Based on their incredible experiences to date, I have every confidence that they will apply their combined expertise and talents to achieve great things for NASA and this country in the pursuit of human exploration."

During the Google+ Hangout, which will include recorded video introductions from the astronaut candidates and discuss the selection and training process, NASA's social media followers may submit questions on Twitter and Google+ in advance and during the event using the hashtag #askNASA. Before the hangout begins, NASA will open a thread on its Facebook page where questions may be posted. The Hangout can be viewed live on NASA's Google+ page or on NASA Television. To join the Hangout, visit:

http://go.nasa.gov/126mOLK

Reporters may ask questions on the Hangout using a phone bridge managed at Johnson. To participate via phone bridge, journalists must call the Johnson newsroom at 281-483-5111 by 2:45 p.m.

By design, NASA's calls for astronauts are staggered so the agency can maintain continuity of experience and leadership in the astronaut corps. Since the initial astronaut class of 1959, NASA has selected and trained 330 astronauts. Most recently in 2009, NASA selected nine candidates. The 2013 group is the agency's 21st astronaut class.

NASA is engaging in a parallel path for human spaceflight exploration with U.S. commercial companies providing access to low-Earth Orbit for cargo to the space station. NASA's Commercial Crew Program also is working with commercial space partners to develop capabilities to launch U.S. astronauts from American soil in the next few years.

At the same time, NASA is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket designed to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration, including a mission to study an asteroid and Mars.

For more information about the astronaut candidates, their photos and details on the astronaut selection process, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/2013astroclass

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NASA picks eight astronaut trainees that may go to asteroids and Mars (video)