ORLANDO, Fla. — NASA now has 48 active astronauts as 11 candidates chosen in 2017 graduated from basic training, the first since NASA announced its Artemis program to return to the moon.
The 11 NASA astronauts received a silver pin in a Friday ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Those silver pins will be replaced with gold pins if and when they make their first spaceflight.
"These individuals represent the best of America, and what an incredible time for them to join our astronaut corps," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at the ceremony. "2020 will mark the return of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and will be an important year of progress for our Artemis program and missions to the moon and beyond."
Two new Canadian Space Agency astronauts who trained alongside the NASA astronauts attended the ceremony as well.
As active members of the astronaut corps, they could be chosen for missions to the International Space Station or as part of the Artemis missions, which plan to return the first humans, including the first woman, to the lunar surface by 2024.
NASA said it then plans yearly missions back to the moon, and eventually to Mars, with a goal of reaching a crewed mission to Mars by the mid-2030s.
Graduation ceremonies have been private affairs in the past, but Friday's event was open to the public with Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz in attendance as speakers.
"For generations, the United States has been the world leader in space exploration, and Johnson Space Center will always be both the heart and home of human spaceflight activity," said Cornyn. "I have no doubt the newly minted astronauts will add to that history and accomplish incredible things."
The pool for 2017's chosen class was chosen from more than 18,000 applicants. NASA is considering opening the application process again this spring for the next pool of astronauts.
"I congratulate these exceptional men and women on being the first graduating class of the Artemis program," Cruz said. "They are the pioneers of the final frontier whose work will help fortify America's leadership in space for generations to come. I am excited for the opportunities ahead of them, including landing the first woman ever on the surface of the Moon, and having the first boots to step on Mars."
The new astronauts are Kayla Barron of Richland, Wash.; Zena Cadman of Williamsburg, Va.; Raja Chari of Cedar Falls, Iowa; Matthew Dominick of Wheat Ridge, Colo.; Bob Hines of Harrisburg, Penn.; Warren Hoburg of Pittsburgh; Dr. Jonn Kim of Los Angeles; Jasmin Moghbeli of Baldwin, N.Y.; Loral O'Hara of Houston; Dr. Francisco "Frank" Rubio of Miami; and Jessica Watkins of Lafayette, Colo.
Florida native Rubio served with the U.S. Army as a combat helicopter pilot in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and as a battalion surgeon in the U.S. Army Special Forces.
"Many of us dream of the opportunity to go into space and have that unique experience," said Rubio, whose family is from El Salvador, told the Orlando Sentinel in 2017 from his then home in Miami. "For me, it was just as much that as it was about participating in something that, in the big picture, I can be a part of that helps humanity and moves it forward."
The two new CSA astronauts are Joshua Kutryk of Beauvallon, Alberta; and Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons of Calgary, Alberta.
The candidates trained for two years learning Russia as well as how to perform a spacewalk, robotics, International Space Station systems and T-38 jet proficiency.
NASA said that only about 500 people have made it into space.