CHANTILLY, Va. — NASA introduced 11 new astronaut candidates, including three teachers, during ceremonies at the National Air and Space Museum's new cathedral of flight on Thursday. The class of 2004 is the first astronaut group to be named in four years, and the first since last year's Columbia shuttle tragedy.
The teachers were selected from a field of more than 1,000 applicants and will live, work and train with a corps of more than 100 astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. If all goes according to plan, the teachers and the others in this year's class may be scheduled for a spaceflight by 2009 — a year before the scheduled retirement of the shuttle fleet.
No teacher has taken off on a space launch since Christa McAuliffe, who died in the 1986 Challenger explosion. The teacher who served as McAuliffe's alternate on that flight, Barbara Morgan, has been training in Houston since 1998 and is scheduled for a space flight in 2006.
Program in flux
The introduction of the 11 new astronauts comes as the space program is in flux, with shuttle missions grounded until at least next March in the wake of last year's Columbia explosion. NASA is planning to permanently ground the shuttles in 2010 to redirect efforts for a return to the moon by 2020.
Last year, when the astronaut corps swelled to 144, the agency's inspector general warned that too many astronauts were waiting around for their chance to fly and that the agency was overly optimistic in its prediction of the number of future shuttle flights.
Despite the possibility of a protracted wait for the opportunity to join a flight, the new astronauts who were introduced at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly said the chance was one they couldn't pass up.
"I'm standing in the right line at least," said Richard Arnold, a Maryland native who most recently taught science and math in Romania.
While there may a current dearth of flights, if things go well and astronauts indeed return to the moon by 2020, the astronauts in the current class could at that time be some of the most senior members of the astronaut corps, NASA spokeswoman Melissa Mathews said.
Risks worth the reward
When Columbia disintegrated last year, Arnold was in the process of submitting his application, which he knew would be one among many hundreds, so the possibility of truly being an astronaut seemed remote at the time. Still, he said he discussed the dangers with his wife and decided the risks were worth the reward.
"I've always encouraged my students to follow their dreams," he said. "I hope I'm setting the same example for my kids." Arnold, 40, and his wife have two daughters.
Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, 28, of Vancouver, Wash., first learned of the NASA's teacher program as she searched the Internet seeking an answer to a student's question: "How do you go to the bathroom in space?"
While she said she said she has enjoyed her job teaching science at Hudson's Bay High School, she is "looking forward to teaching in a different way" through the educator-astronaut program.
The new group of 11 is the smallest class of astronauts since the shuttle program began. They join a corps of about 100, officials said, which has dropped significantly in size in the last year through retirements and attrition.
Mathews said the new astronaut class takes the inspector general's finding into account, and provides a new mix of skills and specialties to round out the corps.
Members of the astronaut candidate class of 2004 include:
Mission Specialist-Educator Joseph Acaba, 36, of Dunnellon, Fla.; math and science teacher at Dunnellon Middle School; born in Inglewood, Calif. Acaba has degrees from the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Arizona. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic and also managed a research station in the Bahamas.
Mission Specialist-Educator Richard Arnold, 40, of Berlin, Md.; currently lives in Bucharest, Romania; math and science teacher at the American International School of Bucharest; born in Cheverly, Md. and raised in Bowie, Md. Arnold has degrees from Frostburg State University and the University of Maryland. Arnold has also taught in Morocco, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia.
Pilot Randolph Bresnik, Major, U.S. Marine Corps, 36, an F/A-18 pilot and experimental test pilot based in San Diego, Calif.; born in Fort Knox, Ky. Bresnik has degrees from The Citadel in South Carolina and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is getting married this month in a Scottish castle.
Mission Specialist Christopher Cassidy, Lt. Cmdr., U.S. Navy, 34; Navy SEAL based in Norfolk, Va.; born in Salem, Mass.; raised in York, Maine. He has degrees from the U.S. Naval Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cassidy completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan and earned a Bronze Star.
Pilot James Dutton, Major, U.S. Air Force, 35; an F/A-22 test pilot stationed in Edwards, Calif.; born and raised in Eugene, Ore. Dutton has degrees from the U.S. Air Force Academy and the University of Washington. During the 1990s, Dutton flew combat air patrols over northern Iraq.
Mission Specialist Jose Hernandez, 41, of Houston; engineer and branch chief at NASA's Johnson Space Center; born in French Camp, Calif.; grew up as a migrant farm worker before settling in Stockton, Calif. Hernandez has degrees from the University of the Pacific and the University of California at Santa Barbara. His work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the 1990s contributed to a new tool for early breast cancer detection.
Mission Specialist R. Shane Kimbrough, 36, Major, U.S. Army, of Houston; flight simulation engineer at JSC; born in Killeen, Tex.; considers Atlanta his hometown. Kimbrough has degrees from the U.S. Military Academy, where he was captain of the baseball team, and from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He served as a platoon leader in an Apache attack helicopter company during the first Persian Gulf War.
Mission Specialist Thomas Marshburn, M.D., 43, of Houston; flight surgeon at JSC; born in Statesville, N.C.; raised in Atlanta. He has degrees from Davidson College, the University of Virginia, Wake Forest University and the University of Texas Medical Branch. Marshburn is an avid mountain climber and has a private pilot's license.
Mission Specialist-Educator Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, 28, of Vancouver, Wash.; science teacher at Hudson's Bay High School; born in Colorado Springs, Colo., and raised in Fort Collins, Colo. Metcalf-Lindenburger graduated from Whitman College. She is a cross-country coach and marathon runner. She was a champion runner in college.
Mission Specialist Robert Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., 38, of Oak Park, Ill.; orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago; raised in Hampton, Va. Satcher has degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and from Harvard University. He performs research in muscular-skeletal oncology and has done charity medical work overseas.
Mission Specialist Shannon Walker, Ph.D., 38, of Houston; a manager at JSC overseeing the technical health of the international space station; born and raised in Houston. Walker has three degrees from Rice University. She has lived in worked in Russia, supporting the space station program. She is an avid private pilot.
This report includes information from The Associated Press and NASA.