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Astronaut Candidates Make NASA Rounds

Astronaut Candidates Make NASA Rounds
NASA’s newest class of astronauts conducts an emergency egress drill during 2004 ASCAN land survival training in the wilderness near Brunswick, Maine. (Image credit: NASA/JSC.)

With water and survival training behind them, NASA's astronaut candidates are making the rounds of the agency's 10 centers to acquaint themselves with ongoing research and exploration programs.

The 11-member class of astronaut recruits has already visited two of NASA's field centers this month, interrupting their cross-country tour with T-38 jet aircraft training at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.

"We just want to give them an overview of what we do, including our aeronautics and other research programs," said Lori Rachul, spokeswoman for NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

In addition to the Glenn visit, the astronaut class was also briefed on NASA research at the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland before heading back to Houston for T-38 flight training.

"I'm looking forward to it," said astronaut candidate Shannon Walker, a mission specialist, of the T-38 training during a telephone interview. "I think it's going to be fun."

An astrophysicist by training, Walker is also an avid private pilot and owns her own airplane.

JSC officials said the astronaut class will soon trek to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as the Ames and Dryden research centers, in California, and begin preliminary briefings on space shuttle orbiter systems.

The class has weathered water training in Pensacola, Florida to escape sinking aircraft and completed wilderness survival training, during which they spent four days in a Maine forest learning skills from U.S. Navy instructors.

"It's excellent training in terms of being able to work together as a team in an unfamiliar situation," Walker said, adding the experience was among the more physically demanding challenges for the class because of its non-stop, 24-hour nature. "We all survived."

NASA's astronaut candidates include two pilots, three educator astronauts and six mission specialists. Three astronauts from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are also training alongside the 2004 class.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.