Aug. 21--As a fourth-grader in San Antonio, Andrew Morgan, now 37, says his dad gave him an assignment to write a letter to a famous Texas native.
Morgan chose Alan Bean, the Apollo 12 astronaut, who wrote back on official NASA stationery.
"I was convinced that was my acceptance as an astronaut candidate," Morgan recalled.
Morgan, an emergency physician who now considers New Castle, Pa., home, had to wait nearly three decades for that dream to become a reality. On Tuesday, he and seven other astronaut candidates made it official, publicly appearing at Johnson Space Center as NASA's newest astronaut class.
The group includes four men and four women from across the country who were culled from more than 6,000 applicants.
"They not only have the right stuff, they represent the full tapestry of American diversity," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden during the event.
He advised them to get to know, and enjoy, Houston.
"For more than 50 years now, Johnson Space Center has been the home of America's human spaceflight program, and it will be your new home," he said. "I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did," added the former astronaut.
For some candidates, including test pilot Victor Glover from Pomona, Calif., the weather will take some getting used to.
"This humidity is a major adjustment for me," Glover admitted.
The astronauts are joining NASA at a time of uncertainty. The space agency doesn't have its own spacecraft to launch astronauts into orbit, and replacements from private companies are not expected to come along until 2017, at the earliest.
The future of the International Space Station is in doubt after 2021, and there are questions about the viability of NASA's expensive program to build a next generation of heavy-lift rockets.
But for one day, at least, the smiling, fresh-faced 30-somethings brought an unmistakable exuberance to the sprawling space center south of Houston.
"From the time I was little girl, I have been very inspired by the exploits of NASA," said Anne McClain, a Spokane, Wash.-based engineer and test pilot. "I'm just overjoyed, humbled and truly grateful to be joining the team."
Hers was a sentiment shared by the other candidates, who face two years of training at Johnson Space Center before they will be considered for spaceflight opportunities.
"I'm still a little bit shocked," said Jessica Meir, a marine biologist from Caribou, Maine.
Tyler Hague, a test pilot from Hoxie, Kan., first applied to become an astronaut a decade ago. "This has been a lifelong dream of mine," he said. "Don't take no for an answer."
The astronauts will provide an influx of young blood to an astronaut corps that has seen many of its members leave after the space shuttle's retirement.
Josh Cassada, a physicist from White Bear Lake, Minn., was pragmatic about the competition for spaceflight opportunities.
"I'm encouraged that maybe mission assignment will be determined alphabetically," he said.
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