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Two University of Arizona graduates among 2021 NASA astronaut candidates

Christina Birch and Jessica Wittner are among the 10 chosen out of 12,000 applicants.

GILBERT, Ariz. — Space travel and research have really taken off in the past few years. 

Most recently, we have begun research on Mars and projections say that astronauts can be back on the moon within the next 10 years. 

Two University of Arizona graduates could be a part of the upcoming space endeavors.

“These NASA astronauts will plan, train and fly missions to the international space station and to the moon under Artemis and eventually on to Mars,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center.

NASA announced their newest class of astronaut candidates for 2021 Monday morning.

Christina Birtch and Jessica Wittner were among the 10 hopefuls chosen out of 12,000 applicants.

Christina Birch is a Gilbert High School and University of Arizona alumna with a doctorate in bioengineering from MIT.

Jessica Wittner, a U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander and former University of Arizona student, earned her degree in aerospace engineering. She has dreamed of going to space since she was a little girl.

“I really loved the science and engineering classes. That was what I was passionate about as a kid. I built model airplanes. Built model rockets. This is the culmination of my dreams,” said Wittner.

Their 2-year training will start in January at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Astronauts in training will learn the international space station through simulations and to spacewalk. Wittner will also be learning to pilot the T-38 spaceflight planes, something she said keeps her within her military roots. 

Not to mention they will all need to learn several foreign languages.

“It’s not just our goals but the goals of the world. I think that’s all very exciting,” said Wittner.

Birch, who grew up in the Valley, encourages anyone dreaming of going to space to explore their curiosities and passions.

“I think if you approach every day trying to do the little things well, they will add up to something really big. That might be sitting up here someday as a NASA astronaut candidate,” said Birch.

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