NASA Begins Hunt for New Astronauts

Astronaut hopefuls with the right stuff have a fresh chance to reach for the International Space Station and, ultimately, the moon, thanks to a new NASA hunt for qualified spaceflyers.

The U.S. space agency announced Tuesday that it is accepting applications for its 2009 Astronaut Candidate Class. Would-be spaceflyers have until July 1, 2008 to apply, the agency said.

"They would begin duty at the Johnson Space Center in August 2009," NASA spokesperson Katherine Trinidad told SPACE.com of the new astronauts. Based in Houston, Texas, the Johnson Space Center (JSC) is home to NASA's space shuttle and ISS mission controls, as well as its astronaut corps.

After completing basic training, members of the 2009 astronaut class could go on to fly long-duration flights to the ISS or lunar flights aboard NASA's future Orion Crew Exploration Vehicles, NASA officials said.

Trinidad said there are currently 91 active NASA astronauts training for spaceflights or performing technical duties. An additional 15 international spaceflyers are also on active duty, she added.

To be considered for NASA's astronaut corps, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in engineering, science or mathematics and have three years of relevant professional experience, the space agency said.

While most successful applicants are veteran engineers, scientists or pilots of high-performance jets, NASA also urged educators to apply for its newest class of astronauts. Experienced teachers of kindergarten through the 12th grade level are also considered qualified, NASA officials added.

There are currently four educator astronauts in NASA's spaceflying ranks, the first of whom -- former Idaho schoolteacher Barbara Morgan -- completed her first spaceflight last month aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. Morgan participated in ISS construction during NASA's STS-118 mission in August and served as backup to the agency's first Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe before the 1986 Challenger accident.

NASA will announce the final selections for the new astronaut class in early 2009 after a six-month interview and evaluation process.

"We look forward to gathering applications and then being able to select from the largest pool possible," said veteran astronaut Ellen Ochoa, NASA's chief of flight crew operations at JSC, in a statement.

The 2009 astronaut candidates will be NASA's first new space-bound class since 2004, when 11 new spaceflyers joined the U.S. space agency. Included in the 2004 group were three educator astronauts. A trio of spaceflyers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also trained alongside the 2004 class.

To apply for NASA's 2009 astronaut class, visit here: http://www.usajobs.gov

Click here or call (281) 483-5907 for more information via NASA's Astronaut Selection Office.