The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Tuesday a record 4,127 people applied to become astronauts for the agency as it opened recruitment for the first time in 13 years with an eye on sending people to the International Space Station and on U.S.-led lunar exploration missions.

The all-time-high number comes as the agency for the first time dropped the requirement that candidates have a university education. The change was made in the hope of recruiting people with a wide range of experience.

However, applicants were required to have at least three years of work experience as of late March, with some academic qualifications being considered as meeting this requirement.

Of the 4,127, 919 were women, or 22.2%, falling short of the agency's goal to have female candidates account for 30% of the entire applicants.

Those selected after an initial screening will go through four rounds of examinations. JAXA aims to finish the recruitment process by February next year, with the number of successful applicants not decided in advance.

The average age of JAXA's active astronauts is over 52. With their retirement age set at 60, there may be only two active astronauts left by 2030, the agency said.

"We hope people with extraordinary talent will be selected so they can take charge of lunar exploration in the future," science minister Shinsuke Suematsu said at a news conference.

The number of hopefuls is about 4.3 times higher than the 963 in the previous recruitment opening in 2008, with that number likely impacted by a JAXA decision to extend a deadline for the submission of medical reports, taking into account that health checks may have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.