PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colorado -- After an extensive year-and-a-half search, NASA has selected 12 people for its 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class, which includes one Soldier.

Maj. Frank Rubio, a physician serving with the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colorado, was selected from a pool of more than 18,300 applicants.

Rubio says he is ecstatic to have been chosen. "It's one of those things where you hope and hope that it's going to happen but you kind of guard yourself against hoping too much because the odds are pretty darn slim. When it happened, it was awesome. It's hard to describe to be honest. It's thrilling, it's exciting, and it's a relief to some degree because you've been going through this process for a year and a half.

Rubio will join Astronauts Lt. Col. Drew Morgan and Maj. Anne McClain as part of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command's Astronaut Detachment in Houston, Texas, starting in August. He will begin two years of training as an astronaut candidate to include International Space Station systems training, Extravehicular Activity skills training, Robotics skills training, Russian language training, and aircraft flight readiness training.

Rubio said he is looking forward to all aspects of the process.

"In a way it's daunting, because there's so much to learn and study. But flying jets and scuba diving is going to be really cool, and I like robotics. Even learning Russian, which is a little bit intimidating, is something I look forward to. I think it's going to be enjoyable learning for the most part. I'm like a kid in a candy store."

Rubio, a Florida native, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and earned a Doctorate of Medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Prior to attending medical school, he served as a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot and flew more than 1,100 hours, including 600 hours of combat and imminent danger time during deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

He says his Army training and experiences are going to help him in as he begins his astronaut training.

"The number one thing that will help me is probably the teamwork side of it," he said. "That's what the Army does. We work in teams, and we succeed in teams. Everything is team based for the most part. It took me a few years to really appreciate that, but over my 20-year career, I've come to really appreciate it more and more.

"It's great to be chosen to be an astronaut. Almost all of the missions are team-based operations, so I think that played a big part in the selection. I have really been blessed more than anything."

Rubio said going through many experiences, some dangerous and high risk, helped him to learn to handle situations appropriately by staying calm and taking a step at a time.

"After a while, I think those experiences kind of add up and just make you better because you've practiced at dealing with them," he said. "So hopefully that will translate well into to the space exploration environment also."

After completion of the two years of training, Rubio will be assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office while he awaits a flight assignment.

"Obviously everybody is thinking about Mars right now," said Rubio. "I think because of the movies and all that, but that's really the long-term goal. Realistically the chances of me doing that mission are very slim. Just going to space is going to be awesome. Then if I get to contribute to the goal of going to Mars by going to the ISS and doing experiments, that will be great. I think the intermediate step is going to be moon-based operations just to kind of practice for Mars. So any of those assignments would be phenomenal.

"Really what I'm focused on is that first time I'm strapped into a rocket getting ready to launch. That to me will be the culminating point that I'm focused on," Rubio said.