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Here's what NASA's looking for in the next generation of astronauts

(SOUNDBITE OF BOSTON POPS ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF COURAGE'S "THEME FROM STAR TREK")

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Do you daydream about the stars? Do you fantasize about exploring the outer reaches of space? Since its inception, NASA has been looking for people just like you. Take this 1977 recruitment video that featured a space shuttle prototype and an iconic actress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NICHELLE NICHOLS: Hi, I'm Nichelle Nichols, but I still feel a little bit like Lieutenant Uhura on the Starship Enterprise. You know, now there's a 20th century Enterprise.

RASCOE: This appeal from Morgan Freeman was released just a few weeks ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORGAN FREEMAN: Picture yourself in space...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FREEMAN: ...Contributing to a new chapter...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FREEMAN: ...Of human exploration.

RASCOE: The latest NASA recruiting effort began last month at about the same time the space agency graduated a new class of astronauts, a cohort that applied back in 2020. And now this year's deadline for applying has been extended until Tuesday, April 16. So let's talk with April Jordan, the manager of NASA astronaut selection. Good morning.

APRIL JORDAN: Good morning, Ayesha. Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: Do you know how many people have applied since the beginning of March?

JORDAN: We are tracking the data, and we are seeing that there are still a lot of clicks that are coming to our application, which means people are interested. We are looking for folks that have diverse backgrounds to come into this role. You know, I think sometimes when people think about what makes a great astronaut, they think of jet pilots, and we certainly do need those, but we also need folks that have other experiences.

RASCOE: Beyond education and expertise, what exactly is NASA looking for in a strong astronaut candidate?

JORDAN: There are some personal characteristics that play very heavily into making a successful astronaut. Teamwork is probably at the top of that list, and being a part of a team means being able to sometimes be a leader but also sometimes being a follower. And adaptability is incredibly important. Space is a very unpredictable environment. Being able to make quick and sound decisions within those environments is very important.

RASCOE: Has anything changed this time around from what you looked for in the last class of astronauts?

JORDAN: We have historically required two years of professional work experience. This year, we did bump that up to three years of professional experience. Part of that reason is because we are really busy in the NASA world, and there are lots of opportunities with different vehicles to fly into space, and so that level of readiness that people come in with is really important.

RASCOE: One last question - my daughter asked me this recently. What do astronauts do when they're not in space? Are they studying? What missions are they doing if they're not actually in space?

JORDAN: There's a lot of different pieces that play into making successful space flight. So a lot of the development activities that are going on that prepare our spacecraft for space, the consoles that we're using, how mission control from the ground will communicate with folks in space, what they need to wear and eat and do once they get on the International Space Station or into a space vehicle - they are helping with that development here on the ground.

RASCOE: That's April Jordan. She is manager of NASA astronaut selection. Thank you so much for joining us.

JORDAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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