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Meet the 5 Female Astronauts Chosen from a Pool of 18,000 Applicants

These incredible women are destined for the stars.

NASA 2017 astronaut candidatesCourtesy Nasa

The new astronaut corps

Many dream of blasting off to the stars, but few achieve that monumental vision. For NASA’s newest crop of 11 recently announced astronauts, however, the dream is a reality—and amazingly, five of the 11 are women.

For the five talented women selected to join NASA’s ranks—destined for the International Space Station, the Moon, and even Mars—each had to complete more than two years of required training, chosen from more than 18,000 applicants (an all-time record!) back in 2017. They’re among the first to graduate since the announcement of the agency’s Artemis program, bringing NASA’s tally of active astronauts to 48.

At the graduation ceremony at Houston’s Johnson Space Center—the first public graduation ceremony ever hosted by the agency—NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “These individuals represent the best of America, and what an incredible time for them to join our astronaut corps. The year 2020 will mark the return of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and will be an important year of progress for our Artemis program and missions to the Moon and beyond.”

Under the Artemis program, the agency has a goal of sending the first woman (and next man) to the surface of the Moon by 2024 for sustainable lunar exploration, with one lunar mission per year after. (If you’re dying to get to Mars, we’ll all have to wait a bit longer—human exploration of the red planet isn’t targeted until the mid-2030s.)

Hoping to join your own mission to the stars? Explorers wanted! NASA just announced that it will begin accepting astronaut applications on March 2 for Artemis Generation Astronauts. Brush up on these 20 facts about life on the International Space Station before you apply.

jessica watkins nasa astronaut femaleCourtesy Nasa

Jessica Watkins

The only Black woman in NASA’s newest astronaut class, 31-year-old geologist Jessica Watkins comes from Lafayette, Colorado and attended Stanford University. After graduating from Stanford with a bachelor’s in geological and environmental sciences, Watkins earned a doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Over the course of her career, Watkins worked at NASA’s Silicon Valley-based Ames Research Center, as well as at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She was also a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology, working on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.

Watkins credits strong mentorship with encouraging her to pursue and excel in STEM. “I’ve been really grateful and lucky to have the mentorship support that I’ve received from a lot of my teachers and professors and supervisors,” she says in an interview with SyFy. “That’s been something that’s really important for me, and I think help with that idea of persistence, having a mentor who can continue to push you and encourage you in a STEM field is really helpful.”

How does Watkins feel about the opportunity to be one of the first astronauts to set foot on Mars? “The word that comes to mind is certainly honored to be considered in that type of role,” she says. “I would certainly love to be able to be a representative for the amazing people who have gotten me to this point, including family and friends, as well as colleagues, especially in the planetary geology field and represent what they have contributed to the field and helped me get here. It certainly is a little bit overwhelming but I’m excited about the opportunity.” Find out the 7 women you should thank every time you use a computer.

ZENA CARDMAN nasa astronaut femaleCourtesy Nasa

Zena Cardman

A Virginia native who enjoys everything from caving and rock climbing to poetry and powerlifting, 32-year-old microbiologist Zena Cardman is a graduate of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology and a Master’s of Science degree in Marine Sciences.

It was during her undergrad years at UNC-Chapel Hill that Cardman discovered the delights of microbiology, studying them to understand life on early Earth—a background which will surely come in handy during future missions to Mars. “When we find really ancient metabolisms, they can tell us a lot about what might have been going on in early Earth,” she told The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

With her extensive experience in the scientific sampling of microbes—including multiple expeditions to Antarctica—she now has the red planet in her sights. “Doing geology on another planet would be amazing,” she says. “That’s one of the best things about fieldwork. It’s a reminder that we’re all human and we’re bound to make some mistakes. It’s a good atmosphere for learning, and it keeps you humble. You just have to learn from those mistakes and improvise solutions.”

Cardman’s list of awards and honors is lengthy, including a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium Fellowship, a Royster Society Distinguished Graduate Fellowship, and a North Carolina Space Grant Fellowship. While working at The Pennsylvania State University for her National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Cardman researched microorganisms in subsurface environments, from caves to deep-sea sediments. Find out 12 of the coolest inventions NASA has ever made.

JASMIN MOGHBELI nasa astronaut femaleCourtesy Nasa

Jasmin Moghbeli, Test Pilot

An Iranian-American born in Bad Nauheim, Germany and raised in Baldwin, New York, 36-year-old test pilot and U.S. Marine Corps major Jasmin Moghbeli graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering with information technology. After earning a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School, Moghbeli, a U.S. Naval Test Pilot School distinguished graduate, deployed three times into war zones, tested H-1 helicopters, and served as the quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1.

With the reported nickname “Jaws,” Moghbeli told the New Yorker that she’d wanted to be an astronaut since the sixth grade at Lenox Elementary School in North Baldwin, New York when she delivered a book report about Valentina Tereshkova—a Soviet cosmonaut and first woman in space—wearing a space suit out of white windbreakers and with a plastic container for the helmet.

Moghbeli is particularly excited about exploring deep space. “The adventurous side of me thinks it is certainly cool to go farther into the solar system than we’ve ever been before,” she said, citing Mars. “That’s only 15, 20 years away, so it’s not too far off.” Find out what it really might be like to live on Mars.

Loral O'Hara nasa astronaut femaleCourtesy Nasa

Loral O’Hara

A native of Texas, 36-year-old aerospace engineer Loral O’Hara grew up close to Johnson Space Center in Sugar Land and frequently visited the NASA center on field trips. Whether birds or rockets, she loved anything that flew and dreamed of her own future in the skies.

After graduating from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering and Purdue University with a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics, O’Hara worked as a Research Engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. For eight years, O’Hara worked on engineering and underwater vehicle operations, including the human-occupied research submersible Alvin and the remotely operated vehicle Jason. O’Hara’s experience also includes work for Rocketplane in Oklahoma City, where she worked as a project engineer developing a suborbital space vehicle.

O’Hara told NASA that, if she could go back in time, she would counsel herself to enjoy the journey. “I was pretty fortunate to get to do a lot of different things,” O’Hara said. “Enjoy the whole journey of growing up, figuring out what it is that you like to do, and exploring all different kinds of things.” O’Hara certainly embodies this herself with an incredible list of hobbies: she holds a private pilot license and EMT certification and also volunteers on a search and rescue team. In her spare time (what spare time?), she enjoys reading, painting, traveling, sailing, surfing, backpacking, and skiing. In addition to the NASA center, these are the NASA sites that every space nerd needs to visit.

Kayla Barron nasa astronaut femaleCourtesy Nasa

Kayla Barron

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy—where she was fifth in her class—32-year old engineer and U.S. Navy lieutenant Kayla Barron will surely adapt quickly to the tight confines of space, with previous experience as a submarine warfare officer, including three strategic deterrent patrols aboard the USS Maine (SSBN 741). “I really felt at home [there],” she said of her submarine service, where she was among the first class of women commissioned into the community. “It’s an adjustment,” she told the Baltimore Sun. “You’d be bumping your head, hitting your shins on things. But you’d be surprised at how quickly you adapt to a routine.”

Boasting a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Cambridge—which she attended thanks to a scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—Barron was previously honored as a Gates Cambridge Scholar and served as the flag aide to the superintendent at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Barron will be the 54th Naval Academy graduate to become an astronaut, stepping into the illustrious shoes of fellow Annapolis grads such as Alan Shepard, Wally Schirra, and Jim Lovell. Next, read on to find out more amazing facts about the women of NASA.

Nadine Jolie Courtney
Nadine Jolie Courtney is a Virtuoso travel advisor and regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering travel, culture, and health. A former magazine editor based in Santa Monica, she also covers lifestyle and parenting, with regular outlets including The Healthy, Oprah Mag, Town & Country, Business Insider, and many other publications. Courtney is the author of four books, including ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL, a Kirkus Best Book of 2019. Follow her on Instagram @nadinejoliecourtney