Women In Space: NASA's History-Making New Astronaut Class

NASA New Astronaut Candidates 2013
NASA new astronaut candidates (from top left to bottom right): Josh Cassada, Victor Glover, Tyler “Nick” Hague, Christina Hammock, Nicole Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA's newest female astronaut candidates have the right stuff.

Four of the eight new NASA astronaut candidates announced Monday (June 17) are women, representing the highest percentage of female trainees chosen for any class in history.

The new astronauts were named publicly a day before the 30th anniversary of Sally Ride's first flight aboard the space shuttle Challenger that launched her into history as the first American woman to fly into space. The announcement also comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova's historic spaceflight in 1963 that made her the first women to fly into space. [Photos: Meet NASA's 2013 Astronaut Class]

NASA's astronaut candidates for 2013, including Christina M. Hammock, were announced on June 17, 2013. (Image credit: NASA (via Google+))

The women selected for training in the new class were not chosen because of their gender, said Janet Kavandi, NASA's director of flight crew operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"We never determine how many people of each gender we're going to take, but these were the most qualified people of the ones that we interviewed," Kavandi said during a Google+ Hangout held in honor of the new class. "They earned every bit the right to be there."

Christina Hammock, Nicole Mann, Anne McClain and Jessica Meir will be the newest female trainees to enter the elite group housed at the Texas space center.

NASA's astronaut candidates for 2013, including Jessica U. Meir, were announced on June 17, 2013. (Image credit: NASA (via Google+))

"I really strongly believe in both the practical aspects of the research being conducted, as well as the larger picture of the human spaceflight program bringing us forward as a human race and uniting us in exploring the universe," said Hammock, who currently serves as National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration station chief in American Samoa.

McClain and Mann both have experience as pilots at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and the U.S. Naval Air Station.

Meir holds a doctorate from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and is an assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School.

NASA's astronaut candidates for 2013, including Nicole Aunapu Mann, were announced on June 17, 2013. (Image credit: NASA (via Google+))

"All the women candidates … have tremendous qualifications and certainly earned the right to be there, so I'm glad," Kavandi said. "I'm happy that it turned out that way, but we didn't go out intentionally seeking that when we started out."

Not including the new crop of potential astronauts, 12 of the 49 active NASA astronauts are women.

According to NASA, the new astronaut class was chosen from the second-largest number of applications ever received. More than 6,000 people applied for the 2013 selection.

The new class — rounded out by Josh Cassada, Victor Glover, Tyler Hague and Andrew Morgan — could be the first group of astronauts to pilot the Orion spacecraft, fly to an asteroid and even land on Mars, according to NASA officials.

NASA's astronaut candidates for 2013, including Anne C. McClain, were announced on June 17, 2013. (Image credit: NASA (via Google+))

Ride launched into orbit for the first time on June 18, 1983. She succumbed to pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012, and later this year, President Barack Obama will award her with a posthumous Medal of Freedom.

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Miriam Kramer
Staff Writer

Miriam Kramer joined Space.com as a Staff Writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also served as Space.com's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person. Miriam is currently a space reporter with Axios, writing the Axios Space newsletter. You can follow Miriam on Twitter.