On Dec. 6, NASA publicly announced the newest astronaut class, Group 23, who will report for duty in 2022. However, all astronauts that are selected must go through training to become eligible for future flights.
Becoming an astronaut isn’t easy — for starters, those who aspire to be candidates have to have a wide variety of education. In previous groups, the minimum was a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, but the bar has been raised to a master’s degree, all from an accredited institution. Since NASA is an American space organization, American citizenship is required.
Deciding who would be chosen for Group 23 was a grueling process that began in February 2020 — over 12,000 applications were looked through in order to select their next corps.
Consisting of six men and four women, Group 23 is filled with a plethora of different types of people and backgrounds. From an Olympic track cyclist to a military fighter pilot, it’s one of the most diverse groups in NASA’s extensive history.
Nicole Ayers, 32, is a major in the United States Air Force from San Diego, although she considers Colorado Springs her home. She holds a master’s degree in computational and applied mathematics from Rice University. She enjoys outdoor sports such as biking, skiing, and sailing.
Marcos Berrios, 36, is a major in the United States Air Force, reigning from Fort Campbell, Tennessee. He grew up in Puerto Rico and is the only one who holds Hispanic descent in Group 23. He holds a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. His hobbies consist of swimming and strength training.
Christina Birch, 35, is a bioengineer and former Olympic team racing cyclist from Mesa, Arizona. She has a doctorate from MIT specializing in biological engineering. She was named to the 2020 Olympics cycling team.
Deniz Burnham, 36, is a lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserve and drilling engineer who calls Wasilla, Alaska her home. She was born at a military base in Adana, Turkey, but moved to Fairfield, California where she gained a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California. She likes to explore the wilderness and its wonders.
Luke Delaney, 42, is a retired major in the United States Marine Corps from Florida. Born in Miami, he calls Debary his hometown. He has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. He’s an avid nature enthusiast and likes to raise chickens on his family’s farm.
Andre Douglas, 34, is a space systems engineer from Miami, Florida, though he grew up in Virginia. He holds a doctorate in systems engineering from George Washington University. In his free time, he enjoys anything from kayaking to billiards.
Jack Hathaway, 38, is a commander in the United States Navy, and a native of South Windsor, Connecticut. He earned a master’s degree from the U.S. Naval War College in national security and strategic studies. He enjoys test piloting for the Navy.
Anil Menon, 44, is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Indian and Ukrainian immigrants. He holds a medical doctorate from Stanford Medical School and served as NASA’s crew flight surgeon for multiple missions to the International Space Station. He likes to participate in endurance activities such as backpacking.
Christopher Williams, 37, is a medical physicist from New York City, though calls Potomac, Maryland, his hometown. He gained a doctorate in physics from MIT, specializing in astrophysics. He spends his time hiking and traveling.
Jessica Wittner, 37, is a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy and research engineer from Fresno, California. She attended the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, earning a master’s in aerospace engineering. She loves traveling to the corners of the world, along with learning new outdoor skills.
The Group 23 astronaut candidates must complete further training which will take roughly two years. Once astronauts, they can fly to the International Space Station, or partake in future Artemis missions to the moon. Within several years, NASA will make history when they inevitably send the first-ever woman to the moon.
When questioned about this possibility for women, Kate S., a local science enthusiast, appeared very optimistic. “By stepping foot on the surface, the first woman on the moon would be opening a door for young women all around the globe to look up at the moon and know that anything is possible, on this Earth or beyond.”