SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – A NASA campaign to recruit potential astronauts for a flight to Mars may have worked too well.

The space agency took to social media to attract potential candidates and on Friday announced that more than 18,300 people have applied for a spot in its astronaut ranks far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 applicants in 1978.

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“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in a press release. “A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft.”

The agency opened the application process on Dec. 14 and must now narrow down the selection process to as many as just 14 potential astronauts over the next 18 months.

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During that span those judged to be the best candidates will be invited to the Johnson Space Center for a final round of interviews and testing. The Mars crews will be announced in mid-2017.

“We have our work cut out for us with this many applications,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson, in a press release. “But it’s heartening to know so many people recognize what a great opportunity this is to be part of NASA’s exciting mission.”

After being selected, the potential crewmembers will undergo a grueling regime that will include among other tasks developing strong spacewalking skills and Russian language training.

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Among the various assignments the chosen few could be assigned to could include the Orion program that would include a journey to Mars, the International Space Station and the two American-made commercial spacecraft currently in development – Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner or the SpaceX Crew Dragon.