NASA is preparing to accept applications from individuals hoping to join the ranks of the next generation of astronauts. Some of the lucky few selected by NASA for astronaut training could travel in new commercial and government-produced spacecraft to destinations hitherto untouched by our fledgling species.

The wish to become an astronaut is an aspiration shared by many, but achieved by few. NASA has trained only 338 astronauts since the advent of manned spaceflight, so potential applicants should try not to get their hopes up too high.

The agency is requiring applicants to hold a bachelor's degree, or an advanced degree in one of the following disciplines – engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. Furthermore, candidates must possess at least three years of related professional experience in their field, or must have accrued over 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. NASA will begin accepting applications starting from Dec. 14, with the cut-off date currently set for mid-February 2016.

The next generation of astronauts will travel to low Earth orbit aboard the commercially-built Boeing Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft, which when operational, will grant US astronauts unprecedented independent access to low-Earth orbit.

For operations further afield, including the agency's planned presence in cislunar space and eventually a mission to Mars, astronauts will be transported by the NASA-developed Orion spacecraft, and a (currently conceptual) long-term transportation habitat.

Alongside operating and testing cutting edge equipment, future astronauts will be psychologically challenged more than any previous spacefarers, as a mission to Mars would see a crew withstand a minimum of 1,100 days off-world, with essentially no chance of aid from Earth should the worst come to pass.

"This is an exciting time to be a part of America’s human space flight program," states Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston. "NASA has taken the next step in the evolution of our nation’s human spaceflight program – and our US astronauts will be at the forefront of these new and challenging space flight missions. We encourage all qualified applicants to learn more about the opportunities for astronauts at NASA and apply to join our flight operations team."

Finally, as a heads-up for those looking to apply, NASA isn't expecting to make a final decision on successful applicants until mid-2017, so it's probably best to hold onto your day job for now.

Source: NASA