These women weren’t selected because NASA thought it would be politically correct; they were selected solely because they had the right skills for future missions into space. Back in the 1960’s, this would have been completely unheard of. Whilst the Russians had female cosmonauts involved in their space program from the start, every astronaut on the Apollo and Gemini missions was male and it took until 1983 to get Sally Ride into space. NASA has since vastly improved its ratio and does far exceed any other countries number of women successfully sent into space.
The men and women of NASA Astronaut Group 21 went through rigorous testing and training to prove their space-worthiness and eventually completed all of the courses in July 2015. They are now ready and waiting for missions to become available and will be selected for a mission depending on which particular field of expertise is required. Just to put into perspective how good these guys are, 6372 applications were received from potentially suitable candidates who all believed they stood a chance.
The Astronauts of NASA Astronaut Group 21:
Starting with Jessica Meir because I recently had the opportunity to interview her, Jessica Meir is a passionate scientist and wanted to become an astronaut from a very early age. She comes from Maine and has the attitude of an explorer. She hopes to get the opportunity to visit the International Space Station in the near future and she thinks another lunar mission is the next logical step for the space program. She also plays a mean piccolo.
“I had a fantastic view of the stars from the teeny town in Maine where I grew up. Maybe that’s why I wanted to be an astronaut from such a young age. I’ve always been drawn to remote places—and extreme challenges. While doing research on emperor penguins for my Ph.D. in marine biology, I lived and worked in Antarctica, where I also went scuba diving under several feet of ice.”
Nicole Mann was born in California and quickly developed and aptitude for both mechanical engineering and flight. She is a keen pilot and has flown for more than 2000 hours using 22 different types of aircraft. She has performed over 200 carrier arrestments and 47 combat missions during tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. Read her full NASA bio.
“I have one of the best jobs in the world. I didn’t always realize it was a possibility. I thought, ‘who are these people who are astronauts.’ I was an active duty marine in Iraq where I flew F-18s when I met Colonel Bresnik who had recently been selected to be an astronaut and that’s when I realized I could do that.”
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Christina Hammock Koch is a native of Michigan and another space fanatic who dreamt of going into space from a young age. She is currently assigned to the International Space Station Crew Operations Branch where she is involved in crew conferences and IT related issues onboard the station. Her expertise is in both electrical engineering and physics.
She credits her parents for her love of science and space:
“I credit my parents for that because they are both from scientific backgrounds. My mom studied biology and my dad studied chemistry and some physics and he is a physician, but he had a very strong interest in astronomy and astrophysics and exploration in general. We always had National Geographic and Astronomy magazines and Popular Mechanics lying around the house. I got interested in exploration and different parts of the world and different parts of the universe just from seeing those things around the house and the different discussions we had as a family. I’m really proud of my parents.”
Image Credit: NASA
Anne McClain grew up in Spokane, Washington and always had a love of flying and sciences. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical/Aeronautical Engineering and then a Master of Sciences award in the same field. She had an illustrious career in the military and flew more than 2000 hours in 20 different types of aircraft.
“There were more than 6,100 other applicants for our class of eight, and I’d made my peace with not getting in. I still remember getting the call that I’d been selected. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk. I started crying. I grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I can’t recall ever not wanting to be an astronaut. I learned a lot [serving 15 months] in Iraq, flying attack helicopters at the front of the front lines. I joined the Army out of a deep sense of duty, but wanting to be an astronaut feels more like my destiny. With so much conflict in the world, space exploration can be a beacon of hope. No one cares about race or religion or nationality in space travel. We’re all just part of Team Human.”
All images included courtesy of NASA