NASA’s new astronauts: meet the incredible women training for space travel

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

There are surely few jobs more badass than that of being an astronaut.

Not only do you get to literally leave the world and travel into space, where you could find yourself standing on a whole new planet or floating, weightless, in the vast nothingness of the universe, but you also get to learn about the science of space travel and work on missions exploring the great unknown.

So it’s hardly surprising that most of us will have harboured a secret fantasy about becoming an astronaut at one stage in our life – and even less surprising that the newest crop of women selected by NASA to train as astronauts are just as badass as the job itself.

After being cherry-picked from over 18,300 applicants, these women will be joining seven men to embark on an intensive two year training programme that will see them becoming fully fledged astronauts.

And they are all intimidatingly impressive, having racked up numerous bachelor and master degrees whilst making strides in various fields including geology and marine research.

Read on to hear their stories...

Jasmin Moghbeli

Jasmin, 33 from New York, currently works testing H-1 helicopters as a major in the Marines. She has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in aerospace engineering and is also a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School.

Speaking to NPR about landing her dream job, she said she had wanted to be an astronaut since she was in the sixth grade, and advised those who wanted to follow in her footsteps to "start looking into science, technology, engineering, math, those kinds of fields.”

However, her number one piece of advice for aspiring astronauts was to make sure they were working in a backup career that they loved, because there are no guarantees of getting a job in such a competitive field.

"There were many other applicants that applied who were extremely qualified for this position that aren't lucky enough to be sitting up here like I am," she said. "So make sure you're doing what you love."

She also said she wanted to inspire young girls to believe they are able to do whatever they want in their careers.

“If they can see someone similar to them that they can relate to more, then it makes it all that much more possible in their minds to imagine them doing this as well,” she added. “So, to them I say, do what you love and do it well.”

Jessica Watkins

Jessica, 29 from Colorado, works as a geologist and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology, where she is collaborating on the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. She has a bachelor’s degree in geological and environmental sciences and a doctorate in geology. She has also worked at NASA before, in both the Ames Research Centre and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Being an astronaut has always been her “dream and goal”, and she steered her education and work experience towards landing a coveted spot on NASA’s programme. However, she found that she “didn’t love” studying mechanical engineering at University, so switched courses to geology after a year and a half.

Speaking to Blastr, she said, “I think that's been an important thing for me to remember in my life, that persistence pays off and that the path may change, and the path for me definitely did change, but the goal didn't, and when one door is closing another is opening.”

She also had the same advice for women wanting to pursue a career in the typically male-dominated STEM field.

“I would really strongly encourage the idea of persistence,” she said.

“I think it becomes really important to stick with it even if it doesn't end up panning out the way you originally intended or it starts to get a little tough. That has really served me well throughout my life.”

Loral O'Hara

Loral, 34 from Texas, currently works as a research engineer and lives on a sail boat. She has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics, and spent a lot of time at NASA when she was a student.

She participated in NASA’s KC-135 Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program, the NASA Academy at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and also the internship program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

Admitting that she hasn’t stopped smiling since being announced as one of the new astronaut candidates, Loral said she was looking forward to “learning as much as I can”. And speaking to local news site Click 2 Houston, she shared her advice for young girls who might want to to follow in her footsteps.

“I’d tell them to try as many things as possible. And just be curious about the world around them,” she said. 

“Travel as much as you can. Try new clubs. Take classes if you’re interested in something.”

Zena Cardman

Zena, 29 from Virginia, is currently completing her doctorate as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She has a bachelor of science in biology and a master of science in marine sciences and her research speciality is microorganisms in subsurface environments, ranging from caves to deep sea sediments.

While she has a deep fascination in the world’s oceans, and has focused her research on them, she is now keen to apply her skills to becoming an astronaut – and was absolutely thrilled to be invited to Houston for an interview with NASA.

“That phone call was so surreal. I almost didn’t pick up, because I didn’t recognize the number,” she told The Verge. “I wasn’t expecting it. And I think there were several moment of stunned silence before I finally busted out smiling and almost laughing and said, ‘Yes, I would be completely honored to come down to Houston.’”

And she also shared her best career advice for anyone wanting to become an astronaut.

“My main advice is just pursue something that you love,” she said. “Because if you wake up curious and excited every morning, you’re going to be really happy no matter what the end result is, whatever career you wind up in. Just pursue whatever interests you. You know, I sit here in this blue flight suit, and I have to say it’s possible. So you just have to go for it.”

Kayla Barron

Kayla, 29 from Washington, currently works in the US Naval Academy and was a member of the first class of women commissioned into the submarine community as a submarine warfare officer. She has a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering as well as a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from Cambridge University.

Speaking to The Baltimore Sun, Kayla said she was “just over the moon” to have been chosen as one of the candidates, although she knew the competition was fierce.

"Like a good engineer, I was always doing the math in my head and calculating the probabilities," she added.

"It seemed like a steep slope to climb."

Images: Courtesy of NASA / NASA social media feeds