Wanted: Astronauts; Missing: US rocket to fly them

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(Credit:MIKHAIL METZEL/AFP/Getty Images)

(Credit:MIKHAIL METZEL/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Looking for a job? NASA is hiring astronauts. You can even apply online at a giant government jobs website.

There’s only one hitch: NASA doesn’t have its own spaceship anymore and is sending fewer fliers into orbit right now.

“The experience is well worth the wait,” promised NASA flight crew operations director Janet Kavandi as the space agency started a public search Tuesday for new astronauts.

There will be flights, but not many, with the space shuttle fleet retired. A handful of astronauts each year are launching on a Russian Soyuz spaceship to the International Space Station for six-month stays.

In about three to five years, NASA hopes to purchase trips for astronauts headed to the space station on American-built commercial rockets instead. And eventually, NASA hopes to fly astronauts in a government owned Orion capsule to an asteroid or even Mars, but those pioneering trips are more than a decade away.

With veteran astronauts leaving the space agency, Kavandi said NASA is afraid it will not have enough astronauts, something a National Research Council report pointed out in September.

NASA needs about 55 astronauts, and with a new class of nine graduating earlier this month, the astronaut roster is up to 58. One of those new astronauts will get to fly to the space station as early as 2013, Kavandi said.

“We’re ready to serve, we’re ready to get going,” new astronaut Serena Aunon said Tuesday at NASA headquarters.

So to find candidates, NASA on Tuesday unveiled what its personnel chief called its biggest ever push to hire new astronauts — with dozens of cheering elementary school students there to ask questions.

In the past — when NASA had a space shuttle — the space agency didn’t make such a big deal of searching for astronauts, and they were inundated with applications. This new drive comes with a YouTube recruitment video complete with flashy images and driving techno-beat background music.

“We need you to help plan for this future of exploration,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says in the video. “Join NASA. Get your application in now for the 2013 astronaut candidate class. Your spaceflight experience begins right now.”

But before you polish up your resume, NASA isn’t loosening its standards. You must have at least a bachelor’s degree — most astronauts have a master’s or a doctorate — in engineering, biological science, physical science or math. You must learn Russian, but be a U.S. citizen. You must know basic physics. Being a medical doctor or a teacher helps. You must have vision that can be corrected to 20/20, no high blood pressure and be between 5 foot 2 inches and 6 foot 3 inches.

Given these tight requirements, NASA will still probably get 3,000 qualified applicants, Kavandi said. The job pays between $64,700 and $141,700.

And if you are hired expect to lots of travel to foreign countries, Kavandi said. And oh yes, maybe into space.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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