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Ten men and women are ready to begin training so they can journey to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond. The new astronaut class of 2021 was announced by NASA on Monday.
The 10 astronaut candidates, the first new astronaut class in four years, were selected from more than 12,000 applicants. The agency’s administrator, Bill Nelson, introduced them live from Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the candidates will spend the majority of the next two years training beginning in January 2022.
“Today we welcome 10 new explorers, 10 members of the Artemis generation, NASA’s 2021 astronaut candidate class,” Nelson said. “Alone, each candidate has ‘the right stuff,’ but together they represent the creed of our country: E pluribus unum – out of many, one.”
This is the first time NASA has required their astronaut candidates to hold a master’s degree in a STEM field. In order to apply, they must be US citizens from the 50 states or US territories.
“Each of you has amazing backgrounds,” said Pam Melroy, former NASA astronaut and the space agency’s deputy administrator. “You bring diversity in so many forms to our astronaut corps and you stepped up to one of the highest and most exciting forms of public service.”
During training, the class will focus on understanding how to operate the many complex systems on the space station, develop robotics skills, learn Russian language skills, train for spacewalks and fly T-38 training jets.
“We’ve made many giant leaps throughout the last 60 years, fulfilling President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon,” said Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche. “Today we reach further into the stars as we push forward to the moon once again and on to Mars with NASA’s newest astronaut candidate class.”
Additionally, two crew members from the United Arab Emirates will train at Johnson Space Center with the new 2021 class. Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammad AlMulla were selected as two new astronauts for the UAE in April. AlMatrooshi is the first female Arab astronaut.
“Over the next two years, they will train with this class of candidates and they will strengthen the bond between our two nations,” Nelson said.
Meet the 2021 class
The latest astronaut class includes four men and six women, and they hail from Alaska to Puerto Rico.
Nichole Ayers, 32, is a US Air Force Major and experienced combat aviator who has flown the T-38 and F-22 Raptor fighter jet. The Colorado native led the first all-woman formation of F-22s in combat in 2019. Ayers also has degrees in computational and applied mathematics and minored in Russian.
Marcos Berríos, 37, also a US Air Force major, is a test pilot who holds a master’s in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics. He grew up in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, and has flown more than 21 different aircraft.
Christina Birch, 35, holds degrees in mathematics, biochemistry and molecular biophysics and a doctorate in biological engineering. In addition to having taught bioengineering at the University of California, Riverside, the Arizona native is also a highly decorated track cyclist from the US National Team and was a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Long Team Member.
Deniz Burnham, 36, is a lieutenant who serves in the US Navy Reserves and is a former intern from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. She lives in Alaska and has degrees in chemical and mechanical engineering, with experience in the energy industry. Burnham has managed onsite drilling projects in Alaska, Canada and Texas.
Luke Delaney, 42, is a retired US Marine Corps Major who has served as a naval aviator, test pilot and test pilot instructor. Delaney, who is from Florida, has degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering and recently worked as a research pilot at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. He has flown 48 different models of jet, rotary wing and propeller aircraft.
Andre Douglas, 35, has degrees in mechanical engineering, naval architecture, marine engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and systems engineering. The Virginia native has worked as a naval architect, salvage engineer, damage control assistant and office of the deck during his time with the US Coast Guard. Recently, Douglas was a senior staff member working on maritime robotics, planetary defense and space missions for NASA at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Maryland.
Jack Hathaway, 39, is a US Navy commander and distinguished aviator who has flown 39 combat missions and logged flight hours in 30 types of aircraft. Hathaway, who is from Connecticut, holds degrees in physics and history. He supported the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and was recently assigned as the prospective executive officer for Strike Fighter Squadron 81.
Anil Menon, 45, is a US Air Force lieutenant colonel who served as SpaceX’s first flight surgeon when it launched NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission in June 2020. Menon has also acted as a NASA crew flight surgeon for astronauts heading to the International Space Station. An active emergency medicine physician from Minnesota with wilderness and aerospace medicine training, Menon served as a first responder during the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 Reno Air Show accident and the 2015 Nepal earthquake. In the Air Force, he transported over 100 patients.
Christopher Williams, 38, is a board-certified medical physicist who completed residency training at Harvard Medical School and joined the faculty as a researcher and clinical physicist. Recently, the Maryland native was a medical physicist for Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the radiation oncology department. Williams’ research was focused on image guidance techniques for cancer treatments in the MRI-guided adaptive radiation therapy program.
Jessica Wittner, 38, is a US Navy lieutenant commander, naval aviator and test pilot who has flown F/A-18 fighter jets. The California native has bachelor and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering.