Purdue alumna one of a dozen new NASA astronaut candidates

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NASA has chosen 12 new astronauts, including a Purdue University alumna, from its biggest pool of applicants ever.

Vice President Mike Pence attended Wednesday’s announcement of the Astronaut Class of 2017 at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

More than 18,300 people threw their hats into the space ring. That’s more than double the previous record of 8,000, set in 1978 when the space shuttles were close to launching.

Loral O’Hara of Sugar Land, Texas, and a 2009 Purdue graduate, was one of those selected.

Loral O’Hara (Photo courtesy of NASA)

O’Hara earned her master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Purdue’s College of Engineering. She currently serves as a research engineer at Woods Hole (Massachusetts) Oceanographic Institute, where she designs, builds, tests and operates underwater vehicles focused on scientific research and exploration.

She is the third Purdue alumna to earn the honor, following Janice E. Voss and Mary Ellen Weber. Twenty-three Purdue alumni have been chosen as astronauts by NASA.

The seven men and five women selected Wednesday will join 44 astronauts already in the NASA corps. U.S. astronauts haven’t launched from home soil since 2011. But that could change next year.

After two years of training, the newbies may end up riding commercial rockets to the International Space Station, or flying beyond the moon in NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Their ultimate destination could be Mars.

Purdue alum and current NASA astronaut Scott Tingle was among those to welcome the 2017 class in a taped presentation during the NASA ceremonies.

“Travel safe. We’ll see you soon,” Tingle said.

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