x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Women lead next generation of Nasa space explorers

Two women were among the eight candidates selected by Nasa for an astronaut candidate class.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida // Nasa has eight new astronaut candidates- its first batch in four years.

Among the candidates are a female fighter pilot and a female helicopter pilot. In fact, four of the eight are women, the highest percentage of females in an astronaut candidate class ever selected by Nasa.

Monday's announcement came on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first American woman in space, Sally Ride. She died last summer.

The eight - all in their thirties - were chosen from more than 6,000 applications received early last year, the second-largest number ever received. They will report for duty in August at Johnson Space Centre in Houston and begin training to join the 49 other astronauts at Nasa.

The number has dwindled ever since the last space shuttle stopped flying in 2011. Many astronauts quit rather than get in a long queue for few slots in long-term missions aboard the International Space Station.

The Nasa administrator, Charles Bolden, said the new candidates would help lead the first human mission to an asteroid in the 2020s, and then Mars, sometime in the following decade. They may also be among the first to fly to the space station aboard commercial spacecraft launched from the US. Russia ferries the astronauts now.

"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," Mr Bolden said.

Nicole Aunapu Mann, one of the candidates, is a major in the US marines and an F/A 18 pilot serving at the US naval air station in the state of Maryland. Army Maj Anne McClain is a helicopter pilot. The two other women, Christina Hammock and Jessica Meir, are scientists.

All four men have military backgrounds, including one who is a former emergency room physician, Dr Andrew Morgan. The others are physicist Josh Cassada, navy Lt Cmdr Victor Glover and air force Lt Col Tyler "Nick" Hague.

* Associated Press