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The son of an Indian immigrant, Anil Menon, is one of ten new Nasa astronaut trainees

"We're going back to the Moon, and we're continuing on to Mars -- and so today we welcome 10 new explorers"

The son of an Indian immigrant, Anil Menon, is one of ten new Nasa astronaut trainees

A firefighter turned Harvard professor, a former member of the national cycle team, and a pilot who led the first-ever all-woman F-22 formation in battle were among the ten new trainee astronauts named by NASA on Monday.

The class of 2021 was chosen from a pool of over 12,000 applications and will report for service in January at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, where they will get two years of training.

"We're going back to the Moon, and we're continuing on to Mars -- and so today we welcome 10 new explorers," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said at an event to welcome the recruits.

"Alone, each candidate has 'the right stuff,' but together they represent the creed of our country: E pluribus unum - out of many, one," he added.

The ten candidates, who range in age from 32 to 45, will study how to run and maintain the International Space Station, as well as how to train for spacewalks, acquire robotics abilities, safely operate a T-38 training aircraft, and communicate in Russian with their counterparts.

They could be sent to missions aboard the International Orbit Station or further into space after graduation, such as NASA's planned return to the Moon later this decade under the Artemis mission, which will include the first woman and person of colour to set foot on lunar soil.

The field was open to US nationals with a master's degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) discipline and who completed an online test, which was the first time such a criterion was established. A medical degree or completion of a test pilot programme could satisfy the master's degree requirement.

"I first became interested in becoming an astronaut at a very, very early age," said Jessica Wittner, 38, a lieutenant commander in the US Navy who is a test pilot and aerospace engineer.

"I was that little girl in school who would play with rockets in the park by the house and loved science class."

Nichole Ayers, a fighter pilot with over 200 combat hours and one of the few women currently operating the F-22 jet, is one of the others. Ayers led the first all-female aircraft formation in combat in 2019.

Christopher Williams, 38, is a Harvard University assistant professor of medical physics.

"I was splitting my time between helping to research better ways we can target radiation therapy for cancer, and then actually working as part of a multidisciplinary team to treat patients," said Williams, who holds a doctorate in astrophysics from MIT and has served as a volunteer emergency medical technician and firefighter.

Anil Menon, 45, is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force who served as SpaceX's first flight surgeon before moving on to NASA.

He was a first responder during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, and the 2011 Reno Air Show tragedy. He was born to Indian and Ukrainian parents.

Christina Birch, 35, has a doctorate in biological engineering from MIT and degrees in mathematics, biochemistry, and molecular biophysics.

She gave up her academic career to compete as a track cyclist for the United States, qualifying for the Olympics and won World Cup medals in the team pursuit and Madison race.

The most recent NASA class graduated in 2017. Raja Chari and Kayla Barron, two of its members, are now stationed on the International Space Station.

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