NASA astronaut class of 2021: New space explorers announced


BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. –  NASA announced its latest class of astronauts Monday, a group of 10 men and women who will train for missions covering the expanse from low Earth orbit to the moon.

Flanked by T-38 Talon jets to be used over their two-year training course at Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA officials introduced the 2021 class of six men and four women in front of their families, friends and soon-to-be colleagues.

“Alone, each of these candidates certainly has the right stuff,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during the televised event. “But together, they represent exactly the creed of our country: E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one).”

NASA received more than 12,000 applications for the positions.

The candidates will spend two years training in Houston. 

“We are in the golden age, right now, of human spaceflight,” astronaut Reid Wiseman said in Monday’s introduction ceremony. “We have private missions going out into low Earth orbit. We have the International Space Station conducting research trying to better life here on Earth. We have the Artemis program going to the moon and on to Mars.”

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The candidates, who will be assigned to missions ranging from science-heavy investigations on the International Space Station to trips to the moon as part of the Artemis program, are:

• Nichole Ayers, 32: A Colorado native serving as a major in the Air Force, Ayers is a fighter pilot with 200 combat hours and 1,150 hours of flight time. NASA said she is one of the few women flying the F-22 Raptor. 

• Marcos Berríos, 37: Also an Air Force major and pilot, Berríos has flown 110 combat missions, 1,300 hours and 21 different aircraft during his career. He grew up in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

• Christina Birch, 35: A decorated track cyclist for the U.S. National Team, Birch studied biochemistry and molecular biophysics before earning a doctorate in biological engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also taught classes at the University of California and California Institute of Technology. She’s from Gilbert, Arizona.

• Deniz Burnham, 36: A Navy Reserves lieutenant, Burnham considers Wasilla, Alaska, home. She studied engineering before joining the energy industry as a manager of drilling projects in Alaska, Canada and Texas. 

• Luke Delaney, 42: The Debary, Florida, native retired from the Marine Corps as a major and earned degrees in aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering. During his time in the military, he was an aviator with 3,700 hours in jets, propeller-driven planes and helicopters. He most recently was a research pilot for NASA.

• Andre Douglas, 35: With several advanced engineering degrees ranging from mechanical to naval to computer engineering, Douglas served in the Coast Guard as an officer and oversaw damage control. He later joined the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, where he worked on robotics and and planetary defense missions for NASA. He considers Virginia home.

• Jack Hathaway, 39: Hathaway, a Navy commander from Connecticut, studied physics and history before flying missions from aircraft carriers. He has accumulated more than 2,500 flight hours in 30 aircraft, 500 carrier landings and 39 combat missions.

• Anil Menon, 45: The Minneapolis native is an Air Force reserve lieutenant colonel and was SpaceX’s first flight surgeon, where he helped launch the company’s first crewed mission in May 2020. He has logged more than 100 F-15 Eagle deployments as a flight surgeon.

• Christopher Williams, 38: Williams, who is from Potomac, Maryland, studied physics before joining Harvard Medical School as a clinical physicist and researcher. He most recently was a researcher developing imaging techniques for MRI-guided cancer treatments.

• Jessica Wittner, 38: A Navy lieutenant commander, Wittner considers California home. She studied engineering before entering an enlisted-to-officer program in the Navy, which led to flying F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets and, later, the Naval Test Pilot School.

Follow Emre Kelly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.

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