Back in 1978, excitement about the future of NASA, with the space shuttle soon to debut, was palpable. So when the space agency called for astronaut applications, a record 8,000 people responded. That number has stood as a record for applications until today, when the space agency announced that a whopping 18,300 people applied to join its 2017 astronaut class.
The agency's administrator, Charles Bolden, said the total number of applications reflects public approbation for NASA's Journey to Mars. “It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our Journey to Mars,” the four-time astronaut said. “A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from US soil on American-made spacecraft.”
NASA’s astronaut applications have surged even as its flight opportunities have fallen by about 90 percent. Back in the early 2000s during the peak of the space shuttle program, NASA had more than 150 active astronauts. That’s because the shuttle, with six to seven launches a year, afforded 40 to 50 annual flights into space. The number of active astronauts is now about one-third of that peak due to the shuttle's retirement in 2011.