Many people around the globe probably fantasize about traveling to outer space and experiencing what it feels like to walk on zero gravity. For a few, out of more than 18,000 Americans who applied to be NASA astronauts, this dream may soon become reality.

This year, the number of applicants for the 2017 NASA astronaut class surpassed the record of 1978, which had 8,000 applicants turning up. This is more than three times the number of those who applied in 2012. The number had beaten 2013's record of 6,300 applicants.

The application opened on Dec. 14, 2015 and ended on Thursday, Feb. 18, wherein NASA fills 14 or fewer posts. Prospective astronauts were given a two-month application period to prepare the requirements and submit them to NASA for evaluation. This followed the end of the last batch of astronauts' training where new astronauts could help in advanced scientific studies aboard the International Space Station.

"It's not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars," NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said.

NASA has been spearheading the race in space exploration over the past decades. Astronaut pilots are required to finish their degree in accredited institutions in engineering, biological science, mathematics and physical science.

Mission specialists, on the other hand, chose applicants mostly with training in onboard systems and other important knowledge on Shuttle systems, operational characteristics, mission requirements and equipment.

When all applications are received, NASA's Astronaut Selection Board will review the applications to determine all the qualifications of each applicant. The board will conduct interviews with the most qualified applicants before the final applicants will be selected.

The selected applicants will go through a two-year training course, particularly focused on spacewalking, teamwork, the Russian language, spacecraft systems and other skills. The astronauts who will complete the training will be assigned among four different spacecrafts: the International Space Station, Orion spacecraft, Boeing's CST-100 Starliner or the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

"We have our work cut out for us with this many applications," Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson, said.

"But it's heartening to know so many people recognize what a great opportunity this is to be part of NASA's exciting mission. I look forward to meeting the men and women talented enough to rise to the top of what is always a pool of incredible applicants," he added.

The fortunate individuals will be announced by mid-2017.

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