Over 18,300 aspiring astronauts have applied for the 2017 NASA Program. The current pool is three times higher than the numbers in 2012 and more than double the numbers in 1978 which was around 8,000.

The application officially opened on Dec. 14, 2015 and closed last Thursday with record-breaking numbers. The stringent selection process, which lasts 18 months, will eventually produce only eight to 14 astronauts by mid-2017. But what caused the spike in astronaut applications this time?

"[It is] not at all surprising [...] that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

For instance, recent films such as "Interstellar," "Gravity" and the recent blockbuster "The Martian" helped increase our interest in space investigation. Moreover, NASA has been successful in connecting with more people through social media these past few years.

In early January, while planet Earth mourned the death of glam rocker David Bowie, we saw the revised version of NASA astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield's "Space Oddity" on YouTube. The video was originally created in 2013 but revised as a fitting tribute to one of planet Earth's widely celebrated artists.

In late January, 43-year-old European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut and former Army major Tim Peake shared with the world how he makes coffee on board the International Space Station (ISS) through a YouTube video.

While coffee in space is not the same as the ones served in ceramic mugs here on Earth, the video gave us a quick preview of what drinking coffee is like in space. They don't have Starbucks up there but the view on board the ISS will make up for the lesser quality cup of Joe.

In early February, astronaut Scott Kelly got the best Super Bowl 50 seat. He tweeted a photo of the Levi's Stadium in Bay Area from the ISS.

And just this month, Peake also posted on Twitter a time-lapse video of lightning striking planet Earth.

In recent years, social media enables common folks to connect with astronauts up in the ISS. Likewise, social media allows astronauts to bond with planet Earth and share the many amazing things they see on a daily basis. These exchanges via social media make space observations personalized.

There are many people who want to be among the stars. For some people, these stars are in space. As we know more about the universe and more channels can help deliver new information, there are dreams that suddenly feel within reach.

Photo: Paul Hudson | Flickr

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