NASA's received over 6,300 applications to join its astronaut corps - twice as many as usual.
It put out the call late last year for people who will live and work aboard the International Space Station, help build the Orion spacecraft for exploration beyond low earth orbit and work in partnership with the commercial companies scheduled to provide transport services to the ISS.
"Historically, we’ve received between 2,500 and 3,500 applications for each class," says Duane Ross, who leads NASA’s Astronaut Selection Office.
"We were a bit surprised, but very pleased by the overwhelming response to our recent Astronaut Candidate vacancy announcement. To me, this demonstrates the fact that the public remains genuinely interested in continuing the exploration of space. As for my office, we will be busy for a while."
Over the next couple of months, the applications will be filtered to weed out those that lack certain basic qualifications. Those that make it through will then be reviewed by a selection committee to identify 'highly qualified' applicants - the best of whom will be invited for an interview and medical evaluations.
Initial interviews will be held by the Astronaut Selection Board from August through October. Then, starting in November and running through January 2013, final interviews will be held along with medical evaluations of each applicant.
A final decision should come next spring, with the new astronaut candidates reporting for training that summer. They'll need two years of training before being eligible for mission assignments.
"The Flight Crew Operations Directorate is very happy with the large number of applicants for the astronaut program," says Janet Kavandi, director of flight crew operations.
"NASA feels strongly that an appropriate mix of skills, education, and background provide the office with "a greater ability to successfully work a wide array of operational situations."