Meet NASA’s 10 newest astronaut recruits as space agency sets sights on moon, Mars

HOUSTON — NASA on Monday introduced its 10 latest astronaut candidates, each of whom could perform research on the International Space Station or, possibly, walk on the moon within the next decade.

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The new astronaut candidate class is NASA’s 23rd since 1959, when seven astronauts were tapped by the military to populate the first U.S. spaceflight program, Project Mercury, The New York Times reported.

The newest crop of potential space travelers include a doctor, cyclist, physicist and seven pilots who could play pivotal roles in NASA’s Artemis program, designed specifically to return American astronauts to the moon, the newspaper reported.

NASA’s Class of 2021, which was selected from a pool of roughly 12,000 applicants and for the first time required a master’s degree in a STEM field, includes:

  • Nichole Ayers, 32, of Divide, Colorado: A major in the U.S. Air Force and an experienced combat aviator with more than 200 combat hours and more than 1,150 hours of total flight time in the T-38 and the F-22 Raptor fighter jets.
  • Marcos Berríos, 37, of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico: A major in the U.S. Air Force and a test pilot who has accumulated more than 110 combat missions and 1,300 hours of flight time in more than 21 different aircraft.
  • Christina Birch, 35, of Gilbert, Arizona: A decorated track cyclist on the U.S. National Team who earned her doctorate in biological engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before teaching at both the University of California, Riverside and the California Institute of Technology.
  • Deniz Burnham, 36, of Wasilla, Alaska: A lieutenant in the U.S. Navy who served as a former intern at NASA’s Ames Research Center and manages on-site drilling projects throughout North America.
  • Luke Delaney, 42, of DeBary, Florida: A retired major in the U.S. Marine Corps and distinguished naval aviator who participated in exercises throughout the Asia Pacific region and conducted combat missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He most recently worked as a research pilot at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
  • Andre Douglas, 35, of Chesapeake, Virginia: A former naval architect, salvage engineer, damage control assistant and officer of the deck with the U.S. Coast Guard who most recently served as a senior staff member at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
  • Jack Hathaway, 39, of South Windsor, Connecticut: A U.S. Navy commander who flew and deployed with the Strike Fighter Squadron 14 aboard the USS Nimitz and Strike Fighter Squadron 136 aboard the USS Truman. He most recently served as the prospective executive officer for Strike Fighter Squadron 81.
  • Anil Menon, 45, of Minneapolis: A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force who served as SpaceX’s first flight surgeon, helping to launch the company’s first humans to space during NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission and building a medical organization to support the human system during future missions.
  • Christopher Williams, 38, of Potomac, Maryland: A board-certified medical physicist, who completed his residency training at Harvard Medical School before joining the faculty as a clinical physicist and researcher and most recently worked as a medical physicist in the Radiation Oncology Department at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
  • Jessica Wittner, 38, of Clovis, California: A lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy who has served operationally flying F/A-18 fighter jets with Strike Fighter Squadron 34 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Strike Fighter Squadron 151 in Lemoore, California.

The 2021 candidates’ complete biographies are available on the NASA website.

“Today we welcome 10 new explorers, 10 members of the Artemis generation,” NASA Administrator Clarence William “Bill” Nelson II said during an introduction ceremony at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston.

“Alone, each of these candidates certainly has the right stuff, but together, they represent exactly the creed of our country — e pluribus unum — out of many, one,” Nelson added.

The Class of 2021, NASA’s first new astronaut class in four years, will report for duty at Johnson Space Center, NASA’s Houston-based astronaut headquarters, in January 2022, the agency stated.

According to NASA, the two-year training program includes the following five categories:

  • Operating and maintaining the International Space Station’s complex systems.
  • Training for spacewalks.
  • Developing complex robotics skills.
  • Safely operating a T-38 training jet.
  • Russian language skills.

“Each of you has amazing backgrounds,” Pam Melroy, former NASA astronaut and NASA’s deputy administrator, told the candidates. “You bring diversity in so many forms to our astronaut corps and you stepped up to one of the highest and most exciting forms of public service.”