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Wed, Aug 15, 2012

NASA Taps Behnken As New Chief Astronaut

Peggy Whitson Stepped Down From The Post In July

NASA has named space shuttle veteran Robert Behnken (pictured) as the new head of its astronaut corps. Behnken becomes the 14th Chief of the Astronaut Office, which was established in 1962.

MSNBC reports that Behnken most recently served as an assistant to Peggy Whitson, who immediately preceded him in the post. Whitson stepped down from the office in July, according to a NASA spokesman.

The first astronaut chief was Deke Slayton. The person in the position is responsible for managing the astronaut corp's activities, such as training, technical assignments, and crew assignments for upcoming missions.

While Behnken does have a group of astronauts to oversee, they are currently dependant on the Russians for their rides into space following the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet. There are currently 52 people who have the title "Astronaut" on their business cards, including Whitson, who is still qualified to fly in space.

Whitson (pictured, below) was the first woman chief of the corps, and is credited with efficiently downsizing the corps as the space shuttle was phased out and the program went into an ISS-only mode. She flew on two long-duration missions, logging over 376 days in space.

In his new post, Behnken will oversee the selection of the 21st class of astronaut trainees. NASA is reportedly in the process of reviewing applications from between nine and 15 prospective new spacefarers.



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