For the first time in four years, NASA has announced a recruitment drive to find new astronauts, saying it will start accepting applications next month.
The two-month application period for the upcoming class of candidates will begin Dec. 21, the space agency says.
In the last recruitment drive, NASA hired just eight candidates — out of almost 6, 400 who applied for the job.
Those hopeful of being one of the lucky few this time around can find information and application materials at . Submissions should be made to .
Those picked to start astronaut training will be announced around mid-2017, space agency officials said.
NASA says it will be selecting qualified candidates from a diverse spectrum of U.S. citizens who have experience as pilots, engineers, scientists or medical doctors.
The new astronaut class could take part in several ongoing or upcoming NASA efforts, including serving aboard the International Space Station, commercial crew capsules being developed by several U.S. companies, or the space agency's Orion exploration vehicle destined for deep-space missions, including a trip to Mars.
"This next group of American space explorers will inspire the Mars generation to reach for new heights, and help us realize the goal of putting boot prints on the Red Planet, " agency Administrator Charles Bolden said in a release. "Those selected for this service will fly on U.S. made spacecraft from American soil, advance critical science and research aboard the International Space Station, and help push the boundaries of technology in the proving ground of deep space."
NASA currently has 47 active members in its astronaut corps — less than a third of the numbers at the peak of the space shuttle program in 1999 — and to date, more than 300 astronauts have taken part in missions.
Candidates must have at least a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics — with an advanced degree being desirable — with at least three years experience in their field or 1, 000 hours of command pilot time in jet aircraft, NASA says.
Successful candidates will also have to pass the space agency's long-duration space mission physical.
"This is an exciting time to be a part of America's human space flight program, " says Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"We encourage all qualified applicants to learn more about the opportunities for astronauts at NASA and apply, " he says.