The first U.S. astronauts were selected in 1959, before human spaceflight operations began. NASA asked the military services to provide a list of personnel who met specific qualifications. After stringent screening, NASA announced its selection of seven men, all pilots, as the first American astronauts. NASA has selected 20 more groups of astronauts since the “Original Seven.” The backgrounds of NASA’s latest group of Astronaut Candidates include schoolteachers, doctors, scientist, and engineers.
NASA selects astronauts from a diverse pool of applicants with a wide variety of backgrounds. From the thousands of applications received, only a few are chosen for the intensive Astronaut Candidate training program. Including the “Original Seven”, only 330 astronauts have been selected to date.
The astronauts of the 21st century will continue to work aboard the International Space Station in cooperation with our international partners; help to build and fly a new NASA vehicle, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) designed for human deep space exploration; and further NASA’s efforts to partner with industry to provide a commercial capability for space transportation to the space station.
The Orion MPCV draws from more than 50 years of spaceflight experience and is designed to meet the evolving needs of our nation's future human space exploration program. Orion features dozens of technology advancements and innovations that have been incorporated into the spacecraft's subsystem and component design and includes both crew and service modules, a spacecraft adaptor, and a revolutionary launch abort system that will significantly increase crew safety. Its life support, propulsion, thermal protection and avionics systems, in combination with other deep space elements, will enable extended duration deep space missions. These systems have been developed to make possible the integration of new technical innovations as they become available.
Orion will be capable of carrying astronauts on diverse expeditions beyond Earth’s orbit –ushering in a new era of human space exploration.
NASA is in the process of identifying possible near-Earth asteroids to explore with the goal of visiting an asteroid in 2025. With that goal, and keeping in mind that the plan is to send a robotic precursor mission to the asteroid approximately five years before humans arrive, NASA will need to select the first set of targets to explore within the next decade.