JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Christina Hammock is realizing a dream she has had since she was a 6-year-old growing up on the North Carolina coast.

The 34-year-old Jacksonville native, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees from North Carolina State, is among eight candidates selected to begin astronaut training by NASA.

Hammock, currently assigned to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate observatory in American Samoa, was selected from more than 6,000 applicants, the largest number NASA has ever received.

“It feels incredible and it makes me feel like all my hard work was worth it,” Hammock said. “I also realized it’s not always hard work if you’re doing what you love and following your dreams.”

She said she’s excited about learning to fly a jet and learning Russian.

“I have thought about what it’s like to go into space and I think it will be very humbling to see the Earth from outer space,” she said.

Hammock has worked with NASA in the past, on the science instruments for the Juno probe headed to Jupiter. She also worked on two Earth-orbiting satellites named the Van Allen Probes.

She has two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in electrical engineering.

“Because my background is in engineering and research, I hope that I will be able to contribute to the science that is going on at the International Space Station,” Hammock said. “I also really hope to do outreach and inspire students to pursue science and find something they love.”

Hammock will be eligible to fly into space following two years of training with NASA in Houston.