Purdue grad among over 18,000 applying for NASA astronaut program

Marie McBride, Purdue grad student and NASA applicant

NASA is learning a lot from astronaut Scott Kelly after his year aboard the International Space Station. 

He's two inches taller, and wearing clothes that don't float away from his skin has become painful.

But many people now want to experience this firsthand.  A record-breaking 18,300 people applied to become one of NASA's 14 newest astronauts.

Ever since she got her first telescope, Marie McBride felt the pull toward space.

"I have always wanted to be an astronaut," said McBride.

The Purdue graduate student went to space camp, spending "two weeks in Alabama and absolutely loved it. I decided to study planetary science at the Florida Institute of Technology."

Now she's a grad student at Purdue, where there's an impressive legacy of space exploration: Twenty-three astronauts who took "boiler up" to new heights.

McBride plans to join them.

"My announcement was maybe the first man and the first woman to walk on the moon will have gone to the same school," she said.

McBride just applied to become a NASA astronaut.

But here's the thing. She has a lot of company. NASA received a record number of astronaut applications this year from more than 18,000 hopefuls. That shatters the previous record of 8,000 set in 1978.

"To see that so many are interested is kind of cool," said Prof. Steven Collicott, Purdue School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "I'm confident many of our alums are in that 18,000. It is exciting to find out sometimes you're listed as a reference on an astronaut application."

But why now? Why three times more applicants than the last astronaut call-out in 2012?

"All of the recent success on their missions have made people really excited," said McBride.

"Successful commercial launches by Space X and recent flight test successes by Blue Origin," said Collicott.

"NASA's PR has gotten so much better," McBride added. "You can follow every single mission on Facebook and Twitter."

NASA is one of the most-followed accounts now on Twitter. 

Also, don't discount Hollywood for helping out. Recent Oscar-nominated space movies like Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian have also enhanced the allure of space exploration.

"Some of them may have made space feel more approachable," said Collicott.

"The Martian coming up probably, definitely, had something to do with those numbers going a lot higher," said McBride.

Whatever the reason for the heightened interest, the result will make it tougher for people like Marie to reach their mission. Out of 18,000, there are only 14 spots.

But this Boilermaker is determined to get on Purdue's astronaut wall.
"Oh, definitely. That's the goal," said McBride.

Even if it takes a few tries.

Her application, along with the more than 18,000 others, will be narrowed down to about 500 highly qualified candidates by the fall. Then even fewer will be interviewed to become finalists.

NASA's newest class of 14 astronauts will be announced by June 2017.