Six new cosmonauts joined the ranks of Russia's space agency on Monday (June 16), two short of the eight candidates who started basic training for the job two years ago.
Among the two who did not make the cut was the group's only woman. By coincidence, the announcement came 51 years to day after Russia launched the world's first female cosmonaut into space. Since then, only two more Russian women have flown into orbit, with the fourth set to launch later this year.
An interagency commission including representatives from Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos, as well as the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City and from the Russian aerospace companies RSC Energia and Khrunichev approved the six men to be the 2012 class of test-cosmonauts. As a group, they will next begin training for spaceflights to become eligible for crew assignments. [Women in Space: A Gallery of Firsts]
"I congratulate your successfully passing the cosmonaut training course and passing the state [final] exam," former cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov, the chief of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, told the graduates.
The six include Oleg Blinov, Nikolai Chub, Pyotr Dubrov, Andrei Fedyaev, Sergei Korsakov and Dimitri Petelin. The group ranges in age from 30 to 36. They're all mechanical or software engineers, with the exception of Fedyaev, who is a military pilot.
Five of the cosmonauts hail from Russia. Petelin was born in Kustanai, Kazakhstan, where landing ceremonies have been held for crews returning from the International Space Station.
Among the two candidates who did not qualify was Ignat Ignatov, a 32 year old engineer who had previously worked for eight years as a neutral buoyancy spacewalk instructor at the cosmonaut training center. In April, it was reported that Ignatov had failed a medical exam and as such, was considered unfit for further training.
Anna Kikina, 29, was also absent from the graduation for reasons that were not stated. An engineer and economist, she was working at a radio station in Siberia at the time of her selection for basic training.
Had she qualified to continue her training, Kikina stood the chance to join Valentina Tereshkova, Svetlana Savitskaya and Yelena Kondakova as among the few Russian woman to fly in space. Yelena Serova, who was selected in 2006, is scheduled to launch on her first mission in September.
Serova's flight to the International Space Station will make her only the 58th women in history to leave the Earth out of the more than 500 worldwide space explorers.
Roscosmos began recruiting for this cosmonaut class in January 2012, opening the process to the general Russian public for the first time in the country's history. Out of the total of 304 applications received, 51 were deemed eligible from which the eight were selected.
The addition of the six new cosmonauts on Monday brings the Russian corps to a total of 46 active members.
-- By Robert Z. Pearlman, Space.com
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