Feature

Meet the 2013 astronaut class that NASA may send to Mars

In a historical first, four of the eight are women

After plowing through more than 6,100 applications, NASA has narrowed down its final selection to eight brave men and women who will become astronauts. The 2013 class of space explorers includes four men, and — in a historical first — four women, making it the largest assemblage of female astronauts in the space agency's history.

NASA's 21st class includes a mix of doctors, scientists, and top military talent. In no particular order:

Victor J. Glover, 37, lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. According to NASA, he is an F/A-18 pilot who holds degrees from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif., and currently serves as a Navy Legislative Fellow in Congress.

Tyler N. (Nick) Hague, 37, lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and MIT, and works for the Department of Defense.

Christina M. Hammock, 34, holds a graduate degree from North Carolina State University. She works in American Samoa as station chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, major in the U.S. Marine Corps. She's also an F/A 18 pilot.

Josh A. Cassada, Ph.D, 38, is a former naval aviator and a physicist. He is currently a co-founder and CTO for Quantum Opus, which deals with quantum optics research.

Anne C. McClain, 34, major in the U.S. Army. She's a graduate of West Point, as well as the United Kingdom's University of Bath and the University of Bristol. She's also an OH-58 helicopter pilot.

Jess U. Meir, Ph.D, 35. She's a graduate of Brown University, and earned her doctorate from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. She works as an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Andrew R. Morgan, M.D., 37, major, U.S. Army, is an experienced emergency physician and flight surgeon.

"This year we have selected eight highly qualified individuals who have demonstrated impressive strengths academically, operationally, and physically," said Janet Kavandi, director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson. "They have diverse backgrounds and skill sets that will contribute greatly to the existing astronaut corps."

The young class will join 49 other active NASA astronauts. One of the agency's lingering goals is to send a crew on a mission to a near-Earth asteroid by 2020, in preparation for an eventual trip to Mars.

NASA said during a Q&A session that the four women chosen for the program were not picked for gender equality's sake; rather, the women were the most qualified applicants for one of the most coveted jobs on the planet.

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