Over a year after posting a call for astronaut applications, NASA introduced the 2013 astronaut candidate class on Monday, half of which are female, the highest percentage ever selected in one group by NASA. Over 6,300 people applied for the eight available positions, which begin training Aug.1 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, home of the astronaut corps and Mission Control.
This marks the 21st class of NASA astronaut candidates, all of whom had to undergo a rigorous interview process that included medical, language aptitude, and mobility tests. The eight individuals will join the current 49 active NASA astronauts in the organization's future pursuit of the first manned mission to an asteroid in the 2020 decade, with the goal of one day putting humans on Mars. Currently, the US astronauts' main mission is supporting the global efforts of the International Space Station.
As a NASA representative said during a Google+ Hangout to introduce the eight candidates, the four women chosen were not deliberately selected to represent an equal gender pool, rather they were the most qualified group of people, and a "tribute to women today." Here, an introduction to the impressive women of the 2013 astronaut class.
Christina M. Hammock
After spending Winters doing research in Antarctica and Greenland, Christina currently serves as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration station chief in American Samoa. The 34-year-old holds undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and physics from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, as well as a master's in electrical engineering. She's a NASA alum, having worked as an electrical engineer for the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
Nicole Aunapu Mann
The US Marine Corps major graduated from the US Naval Academy, as well as the US Naval Test Pilot school, and earned her mechanical engineering masters at Stanford University. Nicole is currently the product team lead at the US Naval Air Station in Patuxent River. In addition to her military accomplishments, the 35-year-old was one of the most decorated players in the Navy female soccer league's history. Nicole was also the 1999 NCAA Woman of the Year in Maryland. She enjoys back country camping, scuba diving, and has over 1400 hours of flight time to her name. "I'm looking forward to working for NASA and join everybody working for the common mission of science exploration," she said.
Keep reading to meet the national women's rugby player and the Harvard medical professor that may one day man space missions.
Major Anne C. McClain
The 34-year-old West Point graduate from Spokane, WA, studied in the United Kingdom and earned masters degrees in public health and international studies. Anne served as a rotary wing pilot and command intelligence officer. She's participated in over 200 combat missions, including Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition to graduating US Naval Test Pilot school, Anne is a part of the national women's rugby team, a certified commercial scuba diver, and has more than 1600 hours of flight time under her belt. She was "as excited to tell my mother as I was excited to be selected," and "doesn't remember when I wanted to be something else [other than an astronaut]."
Jessica U. Meir, Ph.D.
"I'm excited about aspects of the training itself, particularly training in the jets and the international components. I love studying different languages and cultures," Jessica said. The 35-year-old from Caribou, ME, has already performed field work at Penguin Ranch in Antarctica and in Mongolia. Jessica earned a bachelor's in biology, a master's in space studies, and a Ph.D. in marine biology. She's currently an assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School. In addition to her academic merits, Jessica is a private pilot, scuba diver, and experienced ice diver.