The selection of five Navy officers with Patuxent River or Southern Maryland connections as 1998 NASA astronaut candidates last week is unusual even for a facility with a long tradition of providing naval officers to the space agency, base boosters said.
NASA on Thursday announced this year's class of 25 astronaut candidates, including eight pilots and 17 mission specialist candidates.
"It's not unheard-of that Pax River folks get a better percentage than most, but five out of 25 is a pretty high percentage," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-5th District), whose office released a statement trumpeting the Southern Maryland connections of the five candidates.
"Odds like that show how NASA has learned what the Navy and Southern Marylanders have known for a long time: Some of the best men and women in military aviation work at Pax River."
The local candidates are: Lt. Cmdr. Alan G. Poindexter, 36, a naval aviator stationed at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. His residence is at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Cmdr. Michael J. Foreman, 41, a Leonardtown resident who is assigned as the advanced orbiter cockpit project technical lead at Pax River. The Ohio native is a 1979 graduate of the Naval Academy. Lt. Cmdr. Sunita Williams, 32, a resident of Glenn Dale. Williams serves as an aircraft handler on the USS Saipan. She is a Naval Academy graduate in the Class of 1987. Lt. Neil W. Woodward III, 35, a Chicago native who serves as a project officer with the Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron at Pax River. He lives in Solomons. Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth T. Ham, 33, a Lexington Park resident and an F/A-18 test pilot with the Strike Aircraft Test Squadron at Pax. He also is a member of the Naval Academy Class of 1987.
Poindexter and Ham have been selected as pilots, while the others have been picked as mission specialists.
"Pax usually does pretty well, John Glenn being the most famous example," Hoyer said.
Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and a Democratic senator from Ohio, is a graduate of the Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, as many other astronauts have been.
The candidates are scheduled to arrive at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in mid-August to begin a year of training and evaluation. After that, astronauts receive technical assignments within the Astronaut Office before receiving a space flight assignment.
They may have a chance to train with Glenn, who has been at the Space Center in recent days preparing for a new flight scheduled for October. That flight would make Glenn, at 77, the oldest man to go into space.