More American workers than ever seem to want the world’s longest commute.
NASA announced Wednesday its newest class of astronauts, five women and seven men, ranging in age from 29 to 42. They were selected from a pool of more than 18,300 applicants. That’s a record for the space agency, which received more than 6,300 during its last call for new hires, in late 2011. The previous record was 8,000 applicants, set in 1978, the year the Voyager mission left Earth for a tour of the solar system.
Being an astronaut is, obviously, a very cool job, so it’s not surprising that thousands of applications roll in when NASA says it needs more of them. But NASA has benefitted in recent years from a convergence of some factors in spaceflight and popular culture that has, in some cases inadvertently, produced some useful recruitment tools.
Plenty changed in the short time between 2011 and late 2015, when NASA began accepting applications for this class of astronauts. The country’s human spaceflight program seemed stalled in these years, wedged between the era of the space shuttle program and a mission to Mars that still seems too distant. But its reach was growing rapidly. More and more people were using social media, and astronauts took to Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to provide them with beautiful views and thoughtful descriptions of life on the International Space Station. Special-effects heavy Hollywood films like Gravity, The Martian, and Interstellar transported the public to low-Earth orbit, the surface of Mars, and beyond the solar system, and NASA promoted the science the featured. Elon Musk’s SpaceX live-streamed rockets launching and landing upright back on Earth, and NASA cheered it on.