NASA is looking for people with the right stuff.

The space agency announced Wednesday it would begin accepting applications for its new class of astronauts on Dec. 14.

The new astronauts would be among first men and women to go to space in a new generation of crafts that will be launched from American soil, NASA said in a media release.

Those crafts would include ships built by commercial companies and NASA’s own Orion deep-space exploration vehicle.

The new astronauts would help continue to prepare humans for a journey to Mars.

“This next group of American space explorers will inspire the Mars generation to reach for new heights and help us realize the goal of putting boot prints on the Red Planet,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said.

To qualify for the astronaut program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. An advanced degree doesn’t hurt, either.

Candidates also must have three years of professional experience in their field, or at least 1,000 hours experience as the pilot of a jet aircraft. Candidates also must be able to pass a “long-duration spaceflight physical.” Among the requirements of the astronaut physical: a person must have 20/20 vision in each eye, have a blood pressure that does not exceed 140/90 while sitting and be between 62 inches and 75 inches tall.

It’s the first time NASA has opened up astronaut applications since 2013. Of the more than 6,000 people who applied that year, eight were chosen. Since choosing the Mercury Seven in 1959, NASA has selected 339 U.S. citizens to be astronauts. There are 47 people in the astronaut corps now.

The application period opens on Dec. 14 and closes in February 2016. The new astronauts will be chosen in 2017.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.

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