Astronaut class


When NASA announced its newest class of astronaut candidates, it included five  inspiring women! NASA received a record-breaking number of applicants for this astronaut class — over 18,000 in all — and the class itself has twelve members, their largest since the year 2000.

“These women and men deserve our enthusiastic congratulations,” said retired astronaut and Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa. “Children all across the United States right now dream of being in their shoes someday. We here at NASA are excited to welcome them to the team and look forward to working with them to inspire the next generation of explorers.”

The astronaut candidates have two years of training in front of them before they’re ready to break Earth’s atmosphere, but in the meantime, space-loving Mighty Girls have five new role models to look up to! In this blog post, we introduce you to these five remarkably talented women. And, to inspire children who dream of their own careers in space, at the end of the post, we’ve showcased a variety of girl-empowering books and toys about shooting for the stars!

Kayla Barron, Engineer and Navy Officer

Kayla Barron already knows something about what it’s like to live in tight spaces, where a vessel wall is the only thing protecting you from a dangerous environment: the 29-year-old Navy lieutenant from Richland, Washington was one of the first class of eleven women to join the submarine service after the men-only restriction was dropped. “I really felt at home [in the submarine service],” she says. “Everyone is really talented and team-oriented.”

The same aptitudes will suit Barron, who has a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, well as an astronaut candidate. She says her math skills weren’t the best for her confidence, however, as she worked her way into the 120 people selected for interviews and the 50 finalists: “Like a good engineer, I was always doing the math in my head and calculating the probabilities,” she recalls. “It seemed like a steep slope to climb.”

Barron wasn’t even able to take the call from NASA telling her she’d been selected, because as the aide to the superintendent of the Naval Academy, she was on the review stand for the color parade. Her reaction when she was free and finally heard the news was appropriate: “I was just over the moon.”

Zena Cardman, Marine Scientist and Microbiologist

To accomplish her research in microbiology, Zena Cardman has already been to some of the world’s most remote environments, from Antarctic ice to caves where no daylight penetrates to hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean. “I’m especially interested in life that lives in oddball environments on Earth, the extremophiles,” says the 29-year-old from Williamsburg, Virginia. “For me, that’s a good analogy for environments that might be habitable on another planet.”

Cardman is a multitalented scientist whose bachelor’s degree in biology included minors in chemistry, marine sciences, and creative writing, and she hopes that her flexibility will make her “that scientific Swiss Army knife in the field.” Having also earned a Master of Science degree in Marine Sciences, she was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at Pennsylvania State University when she was selected as an astronaut candidate — doing research work focused on “cave slime,” which she says lives in “a really interesting environment. It’s totally dark all the time. Life there is not fueled by normal things we look outside our windows and see.”

She’s thrilled to be joining NASA just as they begin looking to longer missions, further away from the planet we call home. “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.”

Jasmin Moghbeli, Helicopter Pilot and Aerospace Engineer

Jasmin Moghbeli has dreamed of being an astronaut since she was a child; she was inspired by a sixth-grade project about first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova. “We had to dress up like the person in class, and I had my little space outfit that my mom helped me make,” recalls the 33-year-old Iranian-American from Baldwin, New York. “That was the first time I remember definitely saying ‘hey, I want to be an astronaut’ and started looking more into what I needed to do.”

She earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and joined the Marines, becoming a helicopter pilot and rising to the rank of major, but she didn’t give up on her dream of joining NASA, so this year she decided to apply — and found the first step of process surprisingly anticlimactic. “The first part is you just submit a resume,” Moghbeli says. “So that part’s a little underwhelming, you’re like ‘that’s it?'” Fortunately, hearing the news that she had actually been selected to start astronaut training was everything that she’d been dreaming of for all of those years: “When I first got the call, I could tell you, my hands were shaking afterwards and I could barely dial the numbers to call my parents to tell them.”

Loral O’Hara, Research Engineer and Wilderness First Responder

Loral O’Hara knows something about persevering until you reach your goal: the 34-year-old, who is a research engineer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, applied to the astronaut program twice before getting the good news; “Third time is the charm,” she says. O’Hara has dreamed of being an astronaut since she was a child: growing up in Houston, her second-grade class grew tomato seeds that flew in one of the space shuttles, and “in high school I used to watch the space shuttle debriefings when they used to do those in the space center.”

However, she tells students who dream of space not to feel bad if they struggle with some subjects: “my worst subject was actually math,” she says. “I struggled with math the whole way through.” Those struggles, however, didn’t stop her from getting a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering or a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics. O’Hara is also a private pilot and an avid outdoorswoman, and has been serving as a wilderness first responder, using her certified EMT skills to help people in trouble in remote places. She’s excited to return to her hometown for training and even more excited about the possibility of a Mars mission: “That’s been something that I think we’ve all been dreaming out for ages, just stepping foot on another planet!”

Jessica Watkins, Geologist and Curiosity Collaborator

Jessica Watkins wanted to be an astronaut so much that she started her university career in mechanical engineering — but then she discovered a passion for geology! “One thing that people have said to me… was that you want to make sure you are passionate about and fulfilled by what you do in your career, outside of being an astronaut,” says the 29-year-old from Lafayette, Colorado. “[Astronaut] selection is so rigorous and the statistics are so small, you want to pursue something that you really love and that you would love to do for the rest of your life.”

Her doctorate in geology led to a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology, where she started working with NASA’s scientific division as part of the team working with the Mars Curiosity rover. An avid athlete and a former national rugby sevens team member, she’s also been acting as a volunteer assistant coach for the women’s basketball team at Caltech. Watkins is an advocate for women, especially women of color, in STEM, and she hopes that she can provide an encouraging example to a generation of Mighty Girls: “[I like] being able to be a face to others who may not see people who look like them in STEM fields in general, and doing cool things like going to space.”



Credit: amightygirl.com