When NASA announced its newest class of astronaut candidates in 2017, 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!
To introduce children and teens to more inspiring women of science throughout history, visit our blog post, Ignite Her Curiosity: 60 Books to Inspire Science-Loving Mighty Girls.
Women in Space: the 2017 Female Astronaut Candidates
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."
Books About Space-Loving Mighty Girls and Women
Accurate enough to satisfy an expert, yet simple enough for baby, this colorful book about a little girl and bird explores the basics of flight – from birds, to planes and rockets – and ties it all to baby’s world. Beautiful, visually stimulating illustrations complement age-appropriate language to encourage baby’s sense of wonder. Parents and caregivers may learn a thing or two, as well!
The girl in this story is dreaming of a space adventure! She imagines herself as a member of a shuttle crew, blasting off into orbit — and then, discovering how every-day occasions like taking a nap or having a meal change when you have to do them in zero gravity. She'll go for a space walk and even fix a satellite... and then, finally, come safely home to Earth.
Maisy is curious about space — so she sets off for the moon! As kids learn scientific vocabulary like satellite and landing module, they also get to move levers and tabs to launch a rocket, drive the moon rover, and open a parachute when she's ready for landing. This book from the Maisy's First Science Book line is a fun way to show kids that childhood curiosity can lead to a scientific career.
As a child, Little Mae was a dreamer, and she decided that she wanted to see the Earth from space! Her mother told her, "If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible." Not everybody sees things that way, though — her classmates laugh and her teacher tells her, "Nursing would be a good profession for someone like you" — but Little Mae continues to dream... until her dream comes true, and she becomes the first African-American woman astronaut in space. This inspirational tale inspires kids to reach for their dreams and reminds them never to lose their childlike imagination and wonder.
When Henrietta Swan Leavitt was hired by the Harvard College Observatory, it wasn't to observe the skies herself: instead, she was hired as a human "computer," and set to studying photographic plates that male colleagues had taken at the telescope. She spent years measuring star positions and sizes and, over time, discovered that certain stars had a fixed pattern to their changes — a discovery that allowed astronomers to understand the true size of the universe and brought Leavitt recognition as a pioneer of astronomical science. Award-winning artist Raul Colon's illustrations particularly shine in this appealing picture book biography.
Katherine Johnson loved to count, and despite the prejudices against both women and African Americans, she was determined to find a way to make her beloved math into her job. As one of NASA's "colored computers," Johnson hand calculated elaborate equations... including the trajectories that helped launch the Apollo missions. And when Apollo 13 ran into trouble, it was Johnson's backup procedures and charts that allowed the crew to safely return home. This inspiring biography of the mathematician catapulted to fame by Hidden Figures celebrates a love of math and encourages kids to follow their passions. For another picture book about Johnson and her fellow computes, check out Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race.
Margaret Hamilton loved numbers; as a child, she loved studying algebra and calculus and she even knew exactly how many miles to the moon and back. But the best part of math was when it could solve a problem in the real world! Her love of math took her to studies at MIT and then to a job at NASA, where they were planning a mission to the moon...and computers were going to be a part of it. Hamilton hand-wrote the code for the Apollo missions — and when a last-minute problem cropped up as Apollo 11 prepared for a lunar landing, it was Hamilton's forward-thinking code that saved the day! This lively look at a pioneering of mathematics and computing is a great way to show young readers that math really can take you to the stars.
When Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden joined NASA, they were hired as "colored computers" — their mathematical genius was put to use calculating launch trajectories for America's first trips to space. They overcame both racism and sexism, carved out careers in science, and participated in some of NASA's greatest triumphs. Fans of the Hidden Figures movie will be excited to share this picture book adaptation of the story of these groundbreaking women mathematicians with younger readers! Middle-grade readers can learn more about these inspiring women in Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition.
When Kathy Sullivan was growing up, all the exciting jobs were only for boys, but she decided she was going to have an exciting job too! When she was a teenager, she learned to fly a plane, and in 1978 she became one of the first women to be selected by NASA. When she finally got to space in 1984, she made her mark as the first American woman to perform extravehicular activity — a spacewalk. This fun and inspiring story ends with detailed background info, including a note from Sullivan and capsule biographies of other American women space pioneers.
Mae Jemison dreamed of becoming an astronaut from childhood. She went to medical school and joined the Peace Corps, but she never forgot that dream — so in 1985, she applied to NASA, and in 1992, Jemison became the first African-American woman to go into space! In this Level 3 Ready-To-Read book from the You Should Meet non-fiction series, newly independent readers can learn all about Jemison's fascinating life and career. Additional material at the end includes information about math and history, and even a timeline with fun facts about space!
She's been called one of the greatest American minds of all time, and when NASA first started using computers to calculate launch trajectories, they only trusted them after she double checked the math! Katherine Johnson broke both gender and racial boundaries when she started working for NASA in the 1950s as a human computer, performing the complex calculations necessary to launch rockets, satellites, and eventually, the Apollo 11 moon mission. Fans of the hit movie Hidden Figures will be excited to read their very own book about Johnson from Ready to Read's You Should Meet series. Older readers can check out Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition for ages 8 to 13.
No future astronaut's library is complete without a book about Sally Ride! She was the first American woman in space, but she was also so much more: a brilliant physicist who loved English literature, a nationally ranked tennis player, an advocate for girls and women in science careers, and a role model for both girls and the LGBTQ community. This entry in the accessible Who Was...? biography series is a fitting tribute to the woman who changed the way girls saw their futures. For more books for all ages about this inspiring pioneer, visit our Sally Ride Collection.
Sally Ride is famous as the first American woman in space, but she was also so much more: a brilliant physicist who loved English literature, a nationally ranked tennis player, an advocate for girls and women in science careers, and a role model for both girls and to the LGBTQ community. In this comprehensive biography, Sue Macy gives equal treatment both to her groundbreaking role as an astronaut, to her work with NASA after her time in space (including her role in the Challenger investigation), and to her education and advocacy work after she left NASA. It's a fitting tribute to the woman who changed how girls saw the future. For more resources about this inspiring scientist, visit our Sally Ride Collection.
Before people could orbit the Earth or fly to the moon, there was a group of "human computers": dedicated female mathematician who used pencil and slide rule to calculate how to launch rockets. Four African-American women, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, were critical to the story of space flight -- and yet their story was largely untold. In this young readers edition of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, tweens will learn how these women, so little appreciated in their time, changed both NASA and America for the better.
Kids today may be astounded to learn that there was a time when women were considered completely unsuitable as astronaut candidates — despite proving that they were up to the physical and mental challenges. In this book, author Tanya Lee Stone tells the story of the Mercury 13, a group of women who dared to challenge NASA and late 1950s attitudes towards women by taking all of the tests required of male candidates. While these women did not get their turn blasting off into orbit, their dedication and determination set the stage for the generations of astronauts after them.
There are few figures as inspiring as an astronaut: not only are they daring adventurers, they're also intelligent, dedicated scientists! In this book from the Women of Action series, kids will read about trailblazing women from ten different countries who dreamed of traveling to space. Including important figures like the Mercury 13, Valentina Tereshkova, Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Chiaki Mukai, Kalpana Chawla, and many more, this book shares the obstacles they faced, the wonders they saw, and the influence they've made on the world. For any science-lover or would-be space traveler, this book is full of inspiration.
Toys to Inspire Future Astronauts
Everyone from babies to adults will love getting to watch the planets of the solar system, peacefully floating in this beautiful mobile! This detailed mobile offers plenty of details on the planets, making it a lovely addition to any would-be astronaut's bedroom or play room. Add a few glow in the dark stars to the ceiling and you'll have a space vista she'll want to gaze at for hours.
Learn the constellations of the night sky with these heirloom-quality building blocks from Uncle Goose! Sixteen blocks, all made with renewable, FSC-certified Michigan basswood, come imprinted with the constellation (with and without lines), as well as the constellation's name, symbol, hemisphere, and order of magnitude. It's a unique way to bring stargazing into building block play — or to create an elegant display on the desk or shelf of a budding astronomer. For another astronomy-themed set from this great company, check out these Planet Building Blocks.
Blast off into outer space with this fun rocket ship with two astronauts from Green Toys! This rocket has a detachable top capsule and astronauts with molded-on spacesuits, helmets, and dual-tank backpacks. The rocket's door opens into stairs to the main compartment, and the capsule includes clever details like knobs and gauges. Environmentally conscious parents will also love that, like all Green Toys products, it's made from 100% BPA-free post-consumer recycled plastic and packaged in recyclable packaging.
Bring the universe to her bedroom with this projector from Learning Resources that's simple enough for a preschooler to use! Kids can project images of planets, stars, spacewalks, and more by changing the three discs, each with eight images, that are included in this set. Meanwhile, parents will appreciate that the automatic shutoff conserves battery life. It's an excellent choice for any would-be astronomer or astronaut.
Blast off with this fun astronaut costume! This detailed dress-up set includes a spacesuit with a rocket ship emblem, a fabric helmet, gloves, and even a customizable name tag for your little space adventurer. It's sturdy enough for all of your Mighty Girl's outer space adventures! For an option that fits a wider array of ages, check out the NASA Junior Astronaut Jumpsuit for ages 6 months to 12 years. Don't forget to add some fun accessories, like these NASA astronaut boots for ages 4 to 8 and this junior astronaut helmet with built-in sounds for ages 5 and up.
Lottie feels as though she can see all of space through the lens of her telescope, and she's excited to explore the beautiful night sky and learn about the star constellations and planets! This empowering 7.5" doll is based on the real body proportions of a 9-year-old girl, and comes with her own telescope. For more dolls from this line, check out the science-loving Fossil Hunter Lottie Doll, the martial arts Kawaii Karate Lottie Doll, animal-loving Pandora's Box Lottie Doll, the hiking Autumn Leaves Lottie Doll, and the tech-loving Robot Girl Lottie Doll.
This 2 by 3 foot floor puzzle features a gorgeous view of our solar system! This high quality 48-piece puzzle includes labels on all the planets, as well as the sun and the moon. Careful attention to detail — like the vertical rings on Uranus — will please young astronomy buffs! Older puzzlers will want to check out The Stars puzzle from EuroGraphics for ages 12 and up, which features a breathtaking image of the V838 Monocerotis Nova Red Supergiant and 1,000 pieces.
Play out all sorts of space adventures with this handy set of twelve space-themed miniatures! The dozen figures include several astronauts, space vessels from the Gemini capsule to the International Space Station, the Hubble telescope, and more. All of them are based off of careful sculpts and are painted with fine details, and they pack neatly into the acetate tube for storage.
Some might say the moon was the original nightlight! This moon replica includes rows of lights that glow behind a detailed lunar surface. As you adjust the time of month with the remote, the lights turn on and off to show the phases of the moon; you can change them manually or set them to change in sync with the actual lunar cycle. For budding young astronomers, there's no nicer way to drift off to sleep.
This easy-to-use star wheel lets stargazers in the 30 to 40 degree latitude zone easily find the constellations that will be visible at any time of night, any day of the year! At 8 inches in diameter, it's big enough to read easily while on nighttime walks. Kids will love getting to spot familiar stars and constellations with ease! Astronomers in the northern US and Europe can get this 40 to 50 degree latitude version; other versions are available covering additional latitudes.
With this kit from 4M, you'll build a solar system with planets that can really orbit around the sun! The planet models include textured details, making them easy to paint, and the base's moveable planet stands will allow kids to see how planets circle the sun and how their orbits come together in conjunctions before separating again. It even comes with a teeny set of rings for Saturn! It's a fun hands-on way to learn more about the planets.
This new fan-designed LEGO set features four pioneering women who made major contributions to the U.S. space program: Margaret Hamilton, the computer scientist who designed the on-board flight software for the Apollo moon missions; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; Nancy Grace Roman, the astronomer who played a lead role in designing the Hubble telescope; and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space. The 231-piece set, created by LEGO fan and science writer Maia Weinstock, includes minifigures of all four women and buildable models of the Hubble space telescope and a space shuttle.
Budding astronomers and astronauts can enjoy the beauty of the night sky with these 75% cotton, 20% polyester, 5% spandex socks. Can you recognize all the constellations? These knee socks are tight enough to stay up well, but comfortable enough to wear all day. You can also check out these planet knee socks and these space CATdet crew socks for two more fun options for teens and adults.