WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- A record number of aspiring astronauts have applied to join NASA's 2017 class after applications opened in mid-December.
More than 18,300 people answered NASA's call for qualified future space explorers the space agency announced Friday. The number of applicants is triple the amount of those from the most recent astronaut class in 2012.
"It's not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars," NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said.
"A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft."
The process of becoming an astronaut after being enlisted includes 18-months of training. From that, eight to 14 people will be chosen to join the program. The candidates take on two years of initial training in spacecraft operation, spacewalking skills, Russian language and teamwork.
In December, the call for new astronaut candidates included an enticing detail: the opportunity to land on Mars.
"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," Bolden said at the time.
As previously reported, NASA has appointed the services of both Boeing and SpaceX to develop spacecraft which the agency will then use for missions to the International Space Station and others.