• Friday, Apr 03, 2020
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Nasa hosts first public astronaut graduation ceremony

  • Published at 07:56 pm January 13th, 2020
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US Senators Ted Cruz (C-R) and John Cornyn (C-L) pose with Nasa and Canadian Space Agency graduating astronauts during the ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas, on January 10, 2020 AFP

The group included two candidates from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), which has participated in a joint training program with the United States since 1983

Nasa on Friday celebrated its latest class of graduating astronauts at a public ceremony in Houston, honoring a diverse and gender-balanced group now qualified for spaceflight missions including America's return to the Moon and eventual journey to Mars.

After completing more than two years of basic training, the six women and seven men were chosen from a record-breaking 18,000 applicants and represent a wide variety of backgrounds and specialties, from pilots to scientists, engineers and doctors.

The group included two candidates from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), which has participated in a joint training program with the United States since 1983.

"They are the best of the best: They are highly qualified and very diverse, and they represent all of the US," said Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine. 

The class included five people of color, including the first Iranian-American astronaut, Jasmin Moghbeli, who flew helicopter combat missions in Afghanistan and holds an engineering degree from MIT, and geologist Jessica Watkins, who joins only a handful of black women to complete the program.

The group, known as the "Turtles," wore blue flight jumpsuits and took turns approaching the podium to receive their silver astronaut pins, as their fellow classmates paid tribute to their character in the first-ever public graduation ceremony.

The tradition of handing out pins dates back to the Mercury 7 astronauts who were selected in 1959, with participants receiving their gold pins once they complete their first spaceflights.

After being selected in 2017, the class completed training in spacewalking at Nasa's underwater Neutral Buoyancy Lab, robotics, the systems of the International Space Station and piloting the T-38 training jet, plus Russian language lessons.

They are the first to graduate since Nasa announced the Artemis program to return to the Moon by 2024, this time on its south pole, as the United States plans to place the next man and first woman on lunar soil and set up an orbital space station.

Part of the group's training therefore included studying the building blocks of that program, which are still being developed: the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion crew capsule and the gateway space station.

But Nasa has already said that the crew of the first return Moon mission, Artemis 3, will be selected from previous graduates.