GIFFORD, Fla. (CBS12) — Donning a green science lab coat, Melissa Sleeper moves around her Gifford Middle School classroom with a handful of solar planet stuffed toys.
The bell rings and quickly, one by one, teenage students swarmed the space-themed classroom.
"We exploring new frontiers, we're finding out new things," said Sleeper. She's one of very few who are hand-picked to teach a special space outreach curriculum throughout the state of Florida.
She held her head high and smiled as she said, "My students are going to be the next explorers."
To outer space exploration is a job opportunity that is out of this world — literally. For the first time in over four years, NASA is accepting applications for its next crop of astronauts, the agency announced Monday.
"Twenty-two of my students went to Go-For-Launch and over a two-day period that got a chance to work directly with an astronaut," said Sleeper. When asked if becoming an astronaut is attainable, she answered, "I think it's very attainable for our kids. If you are driven and have the passion, you stand a good chance to become one of the future explorers of space."
Not every space hopeful will get to don the iconic astronaut suit, however. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and meet one of the stringent education requirements, which include having either a master's degree in a STEM field, a medical degree, or a combination of a STEM degree and test pilot training.
Potential astronauts must also have at least two years of related professional experience — or have completed at least 1,000 hours of "pilot-in-command time" in jet aircraft. Then they still have to pass NASA's long-duration spaceflight physical.