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This is the time of year when high school seniors eagerly await an acceptance letter from the college of their choice. While the nation's most selective schools have acceptance rates in single-digits, NASA is sifting through a record pool of 18,300 applicants for a mere eight to 14 slots in its next astronaut candidates class.

With odds like that, the chances of being picked for space training are more daunting than getting into an Ivy League school. Now that NASA's Feb. 18 deadline for applicants has passed, the agency's 18-month winnowing process has begun. Caution to English majors: NASA insists that future astronauts have college degrees in mathematics, science or engineering.

NASA staff will look at 400 to 600 applicants who survive the initial purge and identify those who pass reference and background checks. Then 120 will be invited to the Johnson Space Center for interviews.

The final 14 will be announced in July 2017 and begin two years of extensive training on spacecraft systems, spacewalking skills, team building and Russian language. Those who complete the program will be assigned to NASA's Orion deep space exploration ship, the International Space Station or one of two commercial vehicles in development.

A manned trip to Mars is two decades in the future, but there is still plenty of work to be done on missions in Earth orbit. It is also good that a movie such as The Martian reminds Americans of the need to continue space exploration. Where the imagination goes first, the public support that makes it possible will follow.

Editorial on 03/02/2016

Print Headline: References, please

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