NASA Mints Nine New Astronauts

Space agency's class of 2009 features diverse group of experts.
NASA's latest batch of astronauts includes a CIA agent, two doctors, a biomedical researcher, and a trio of test pilots.

NASA chose the diverse group for its 2009 astronaut training program after reviewing more than 3,500 applications, the space agency said Monday.

The class includes three women—NASA flight surgeon Serena Aunon, MIT biomedical research specialist Kathleen Rubins, and Central Intelligence Agency technical intelligence officer Jeanette Epps, who is also African-American.

Rubins, 30, is the youngest of the new astronaut recruits. Navy test pilot Scott Tingle, 43, is the oldest.

Also on the team are Air Force test pilot Jack Fischer, Joint Chiefs special assistant Michael Hopkins, flight surgeon Kjell Lindgren, test pilot Gregory Wiseman, and International Space Station flight controller Mark Vande Hei.

"This is a talented and diverse group we've selected," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in a statement.

"They will join our current astronauts and play very important roles for NASA in the future. In addition to flying in space, astronauts participate in every aspect of human spaceflight, sharing their expertise with engineers and managers across the country," said Gerstenmaier.

"We look forward to working with them as we transcend from the shuttle to our future exploration of space, and continue the important engineering and scientific discoveries aboard the International Space Station," Gerstenmaier added.

NASA plans to phase out the space shuttle program next year and replace it with the Ares rocket and Orion crew capsule beginning in 2015. The plan, however, is now under review by the Obama administration.