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News > Air Force Space Command sends six nominees to NASA astronaut candidate selection board
Air Force Space Command sends six nominees to NASA astronaut candidate selection board

Posted 6/25/2008   Updated 7/14/2008 Email story   Print story


by Ed White
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs

6/25/2008 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Six AFSPC officers have been selected by an Air Force board to have a shot at a Mission Specialist berth with NASA for the astronaut class of 2009. 

The nominees are: Maj. James E. Smith, Air Force Element, Buckley Air Force Base (AFELM); Maj. Jay A. Orson, AFELM; Capt. Matthew R. Allen, AFELM; Maj. William J. Christopher, Global Positioning System Wing; Maj James P. Lake, GPS Squadron; and Maj. David J. Laird, 45th Launch Support Squadron, 45th Space Wing. 

"I was happy to be nominated," said Major Christopher. "I have wanted to be an astronaut since I was in high school. That is why I went to the Air Force Academy. However, I also applied for the astronaut class of 2004 and was not selected, so I am taking a wait and see attitude." 

This selection is one step in a very long and often complex process. It is a huge milestone for these potential astronaut candidates. According to Howard Peterson, the point of contact for the Air Force screening board, there were 213 Air Force nominees for this astronaut class. One hundred forty-five were sent forward to NASA for medical screening, where 31 were dropped from consideration for medical reasons. The total sent forward by the Air Force is 114 for this class; 66 are for the Mission Specialist jobs. 

These candidates are a diverse group. 

"What they can bring to the NASA table will determine what they do for NASA," Mr. Peterson said. 

Typically NASA gets about 3,000 to 4,000 applicants for an astronaut class, although they may receive as many as 6,000 for this one. Of these applicants, about 120 are chosen for interviews, and the normal class selected is 10 to 12 individuals, although some have been larger, dependent on NASA's needs. 

"I am a very lucky guy," said Major Lake. "Most people never even get the opportunity to apply for an astronaut position. 

"I have been thinking about this for as long as I can remember," he added. 

Major Lake has built his life around his goal. He received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees all in aerospace engineering. His wife and daughter are also very supportive of his efforts. 

"My family has been through it all with me," he said. "My daughter was born while I was studying for my Ph.D., and this has been a part of her life ever since. They have been very supportive all the way with this process. They understand the importance of it all and are with me 100 percent." 

Some of the class of 2009 astronauts will have the opportunity to be selected to return to the moon. In the history of the world, only 12 men have ever walked on the moon. These nominees are going through the selection process in order to push human exploration of space to its next logical limit. Some of those members chosen for this class will join the elite group to have walked on the moon and lead others forward to Mars, the next step on NASA's itinerary. 

Jeff Ashby, former NASA liaison to AFSPC and a former astronaut himself said, "I would guess that over a ten to fifteen-year career, the astronauts of this class will have one or two and maybe as many as three opportunities to fly in space." 

Air Force Space Command volunteers are stepping forward, doing their part to keep the NASA vision of space exploration an ongoing effort.

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