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Soldiers in space: Army puts out call for astronauts

For every soldier who joined the Army to see the world and still hasn’t satisfied their travel wishes, a chance to see the entire globe on a single mission is now available.

That’s because qualified candidates have a chance to trade in their Army greens for NASA blues.

From enlisted to warrant officer to commissioned officer, any qualified soldier can apply to the NASA Astronaut Candidate Program, according to an Army statement. Interested applicants can apply through Military Personnel message 20-062. The deadline is March 31.

In the previous class, an estimated 200 soldiers applied for the program.

“We’re hoping for a lot more (this year),” said Lt. Col. Anne McClain. And she should know. The Army astronaut went through the program herself and spent six months in space in 2019.

NASA selected the Spokane, Washington, native in 2013, after she spent most of her Army career as an aviator. The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilot served as flight engineer on the International Space Station.

“We've been very fortunate that the Army applicants have been very successful thus far,” McClain said, “And that’s why we want to cast the net as wide as we can throughout the Army and get even more applicants.”

Army Lt. Col. Anne McClain spent six months in space last year. She is one of a handful of soldiers who have become Army astronauts. (Army)
Army Lt. Col. Anne McClain spent six months in space last year. She is one of a handful of soldiers who have become Army astronauts. (Army)

In that same 2013 class was Col. Drew Morgan, who is currently serving nine-month space mission has already performed seven spacewalks. He began this mission as a flight engineer in July and is scheduled to return in March.

The soldiers selected for the program often serve under the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Astronaut Detachment. Those astronauts work as part of the flight crew for NASA space programs, according to their website.

Some of their duties include working in both manned and unmanned operational space systems.

Though she and Morgan were officers when they applied, that is not a requirement.

“We get very, very few applicants who are warrants and NCOs,” she said. “So, we really want to emphasize that branch doesn’t matter, rank doesn't matter. We really want folks to throw their hat in the ring.”

Applicants chosen from the initial round must go through a long screening. First interviews are this fall with a second round next spring. The final class will be selected in summer 2021, according to the statement.

After that, the candidates will go through two years of basic astronaut training. That includes spacewalks, robotics, leadership and teamwork drills. Then they are eligible for a spaceflight assignment.

The most recent soldier to complete the demanding training is Maj. Frank Rubio. He was selected as a candidate in 2017. Rubio is awaiting his flight assignment.

Retired Army officers, such as Col. Pat Forrester, now serving as chief of NASA’s astronaut office, look to the service’s success in providing candidates to continue. Sixteen now-retired Army officers have passed through the Army’s SMD Astronaut detachment.

McClain advised that those applying describe their experience, emphasizing their leadership experience in their application, as well as highlighting technical skills, especially when using those skills in remote, austere environments.

Army astronauts Maj. Frank Rubio, Lt. Col. Anne McClain and Col. Drew Morgan. The Army is currently accepting applications from soldiers interested in being the next astronaut. (NASA)
Army astronauts Maj. Frank Rubio, Lt. Col. Anne McClain and Col. Drew Morgan. The Army is currently accepting applications from soldiers interested in being the next astronaut. (NASA)

“Describe those things to people who are not necessarily in the Army,” she said. “I know that most Soldiers have the skills that we’re looking for and I just really encourage them to communicate that on their resume.”

It’s a highly selective and competitive program. McClain applied twice before being accepted. Another classmate applied four times before making it.

But despite the challenges, she said, it’s all been worth it.

“You step back and look down … and see your own feet dangling with the entire Earth behind it,” she said. “It was just a really magical moment.”

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