It has been more than four years since the last time NASA put out a recruitment call for more astronauts. A two-month application period will start during mid December.
NASA issued a hiring call on Wednesday for space explorers who may fly on future missions aboard commercially-built spacecraft or NASA's deep-space Orion capsule.
In the year 2000, there were 149 astronauts in NASA's ranks, but ever since the space shuttle was retired back in 2011, the American spaceflight program has been inactive and only 47 astronauts remain.
US spacecraft are planned to return to flight in 2017, and four veteran astronauts have already been selected for the first spaceflights aboard Boeing's new spaceship, the CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Dragon crew capsule.
"More will be needed to crew future missions to the space station and destinations in deep space," NASA said in a statement.
NASA and private aerospace companies are busily preparing for new missions to the International Space Station as well as to deep space, including an asteroid and eventually to Mars by the 2030s.
The US has also seen a rise in private space ventures that are actively working toward enabling human access to space. Blue Origin, backed by Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, is just one of many successful space companies in the private sector.
Blue Origin's New Shepard space vehicle rockets during a lift off test in West Texas. The company is interested in providing space tourism.
"With more human spacecraft in development in the United States today than at any other time in history, future astronauts will launch once again from the Space Coast of Florida on American-made commercial spacecraft, and carry out deep-space exploration missions that will advance a future human mission to Mars," NASA said.
The agency will begin accepting applications from December 14 through mid-February, it added.
Those interested in applying must have a university degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, as well as three years of professional experience or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Astronaut candidates must also pass the NASA long-duration spaceflight physical.
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," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, himself a former astronaut.
More than 300 people have been hired as NASA astronauts since the US space agency's first corps of seven was selected in 1959 as part of Project Mercury, which sent men into orbit around the Earth.
hf/jr (AFP, NASA)