NASA recently announced that it had a record high number of applicants for the 2017 astronaut class.
A whopping 18,300 people are fighting for less than 15 highly coveted spots. Its previous record was 8,000 applicants in 1978.
The space agency just began an 18-month-long process “that will end with the selection of eight to 14 individuals for the opportunity to become astronaut candidates,” the official press release explains.
Assuming NASA accepts 14 people, the acceptance rate will be just .08%. Meanwhile, Harvard — one of the most competitive universities in the world — accepted 5.9% of its applicants in 2014.
To figure out how the application and selection processes work, we spoke to a NASA spokesperson and reviewed the official guidelines on the website. Here’s what we found:
“NASA is on an ambitious journey to Mars and we’re looking for talented men and women from diverse backgrounds and every walk of life to help get us there,” said NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden in a press release on December 14. “Today, we opened the application process for our next class of astronauts, extraordinary Americans who will take the next giant leap in exploration. This group will launch to space from US soil on American-made spacecraft and blaze the trail on our journey to the Red Planet.”
To apply for one of the eight to 14 open positions, you had to meet the following three requirements:
1. Be a US citizen.
2. Have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, mathematics, or computer science — which was added on for this round of hiring.
3. Have at least three years of related, progressively responsible professional experiences or 1,000 hours of pilot in command time in a jet aircraft.
NASA also recommends that you have an advanced degree.
Stephanie Schierholz, a spokesperson for NASA, told Business Insider that the qualifications aren’t more strenuous because while they want the best and brightest, but they also want diversity. “We’re looking for more than just degrees,” she says. “We want varied experiences in crew members.”
You can check out the impressive résumés of the current 47 astronauts on the NASA website.
The last day to apply for the program was February 18, 2016.
The following day, NASA announced that more than 18,300 people applied to join the 2017 astronaut class — almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class.
Schierholz says that they expected a high number of applications because of the strong interest in the journey to Mars set for the early 2030s, as well as NASA’s increased social media presence. But since the previous record was just 8,000, the company was surprised to see the final number. “I don’t think anyone really expected 18,000,” she says.
The review process
Between now and September 2016, each application will be reviewed individually by someone at NASA.
Schierholz says people from all different departments — including those in HR and the astronaut office — will team up to do an initial round of narrowing down the pool of candidates by reviewing their education, fellowships, decision-making skills, and leadership skills, among other things.
She says these reviewers will also check for diversity of experience, such as a pilot’s license or scuba license. “Those activities are potentially life threatening and require high demand, high knowledge, and the ability to make quick decisions,” she says. “They show that a person can withstand that type of environment, which is obviously important.”
In the past, this review process was more manageable, she says. However, due to the record-high number of applicants, NASA will be asking 40 and 50 employees to help with the initial evaluations this year — about a dozen more than usual.
Schierholz says they may also have to make adjustments to their timeline this year.