I grew up at the height of the space age. President Kennedy declared that we were going to the moon. In July of 1968, the lunar lander touched the craters of the moon, and Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface. Little kids dream about becoming astronauts — and for some lucky grown-ups, those dreams could become a reality. NASA recently concluded an open call for civilians to apply for a spot in the next astronaut class.

The competition will be fierce. Only about a dozen candidates will be chosen from the 5,700 people who applied.

NASA put out the open call to help shore up its forces — seems someone can only stay in space six months at a time, and with only 57 active astronauts on the payroll, the agency is running short.

But the new recruits won’t be going to the moon. Since Congress and the President can’t agree on a new space mission, the only game in town is the International Space Station, which veterans privately say is “one of the most boring” expeditions for an astronaut.

Still, it’s hard to turn down the opportunity to go into space. So what can the newbies expect?

For one, a three-year training mission. And depending on their academic achievements and experience, an annual paycheck of between $65,000 and $100,000. They’ll also get lifetime health care since NASA studies astronauts’ vision loss, muscle mass loss, decreased bone density and radiation exposure.

Now that the application period has ended, NASA officials will begin a rigorous screening process that’s expected to last until later this year. The new astronauts will be announced in March, and they’ll begin training next summer.

[ABC News]