NASA received a record 18,300 applications to join its 2017 astronaut candidate class. The agency has just announced the 12 lucky people chosen for two years training to potentially become astronauts. And as NASA continues to open more opportunities to women, five of the new recruits are female.
The 12 new astronaut candidates will undergo two years of training before being considered for a space mission. That could potentially be a mission to Mars, though not for 12 years or more. Their training will include learning about spacecraft systems, spacewalking skills, flight training, teamwork, and Russian since NASA's main partner in space is Russia.
The five women in this cohort have varied experience and expertise to bring to the astronaut corps.
Two are military officers. Kayla Barron is a Navy lieutenant who has served on submarines — good practice for the cramped working conditions on spaceships.
Jasmin Moghbeli is a helicopter pilot in the Marines with a degree in aerospace engineering. She has dreamed of being an astronaut since primary school, as did Loral O'Hara, also an aerospace engineer, who grew up in the home of the space program, Houston, Texas. When she was seven, her Second Grade class did experiments with tomato seeds that had flown in one of the space shuttles. She went on to participate in Space Camp. It sparked her vocation for space travel, which was so strong that she applied again for astronaut training this year despite having failed at two previous attempts.
Jessica Watkins is a geologist and already has her eye on Mars as she worked on the NASA Mars Rover program that confirmed the presence of water on the red planet and led to the current project of a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Zena Cardman is a marine biologist specialised in species that survive in extreme environments — a pretty good description of a human mission to Mars! However Cardman wouldn't mind if NASA's priorities changed and she ended up on a mission to an as yet unthought of destination. She says, "There is a lot of change happening, so we are not sure where this current class is going to end up going," she says. "That’s almost more exciting than knowing."
That sense of adventure, as well as her scientific skills, is no doubt one of the qualities that earned Cardman a place in the astronaut candidate team. In August, she and the other eleven new recruits will start seeing their dream become reality. To prepare them, current astronauts and candidates in training prepared a welcome video.
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