The newly minted astronauts are the first class from NASA's Artemis program which planning missions to the Moon and, ultimately, missions to Mars.
When NASA's newest astronaut class graduated this week, it included five mighty women! The new astronauts have spent two years in intensive training in a wide variety of skills, including spacewalking, robotics, International Space Station (ISS) systems, T-38 jet proficiency, and the Russian language. "As astronauts, they’ll help develop spacecraft [and] support the teams currently in space," NASA wrote in a graduation announcement, "and ultimately join the ranks of only about 500 people who have had the honor of going into space."
The newly minted astronauts, who received their traditional silver astronaut pin at Friday's graduation ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, are part of the first class from NASA's new Artemis program, which plans to land the first woman on the Moon by 2024. Artemis is specifically meant as a stepping stone towards Mars: "our efforts at the Moon are not the conclusion, but rather the preparation for all that lies beyond," the Artemis website reads. "All that we build, all that we study, all that we do, prepares us to go." Many of these astronauts will also likely participate in missions to the International Space Station and possibly even take part in a planned crewed Mars mission in the 2030s.
These five mighty women were selected in 2017 from a record-number 18,000 applicants for a total NASA class of eleven members. Each of these women came to an astronaut career in her own way, and Mighty Girls will be fascinated to learn the many pathways that could lead them to space one day. And, to inspire children who dream of their own careers in space, at the end of this blog post, we've also showcased a variety of girl-empowering books and toys about shooting for the stars! After all, as retired astronaut and Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa observed, "Children all across the United States right now dream of being in their shoes someday."
Women in Space: Meet NASA's Newest female Astronauts
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 32-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. 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 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 32-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 36-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. When she decided to apply, she 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 36-year-old, who was 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 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 31-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 the 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 science-loving little girl explores the basics of flight – from birds, to planes and rockets – and ties it all to a 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! For more volumes from this fun and inspiring series, including ones focused on quantum physics, thermodynamics, and coding, visit our Baby Loves Science Collection.
This pigtailed Baby Astronaut is ready for liftoff! She and her crew put on space suits and helmets before they blast off. Once she's in orbit, she'll explain why astronauts float (and even how they sleep.) Then, she'll conduct experiments: Can ants live in space? Yes! Can plants grow in space? Yes! This adorable board book from the Baby Scientist series, which also includes the book Baby Botanist, is perfect for curious babies and toddlers.
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, flip levers up and down in the control room, and open a parachute when she's ready for landing. This fun board book, which is part of the Maisy's First Science Book line, is a fun way to show kids that childhood curiosity can lead to a scientific career.
Mae Jemison famously became the first black woman in space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992 but years before that historic journey, she was a little girl who dreamed of dancing in space. Her mother told her, "If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible." Little Mae's curiosity, intelligence, and determination, matched with her parents' encouraging words, paved the way for her incredible success at NASA. This inspirational introduction to a trailblazing astronaut will encourage children to reach for the stars and never give up on their dreams.
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 love of math into a career. As one of NASA's "human computers," Johnson hand calculated elaborate equations... including the trajectories that helped launch the Apollo 13 mission to the moon. When disaster befell the Apollo 13 mission, it was Johnson's flight-path calculations that brought the astronauts safely 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 colleagues, check out Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race.
Ellen Ochoa dreamed of playing her flute professionally — until she discovered engineering in college and was immediately hooked. People doubted whether she could succeed: a girl from an immigrant family wasn't the right sort of person to become a scientist, they thought. She refused to believe them, and not only did she achieve her career in science, but she even became a NASA astronaut. And when she flew into outer space, her flute came with her, so she could play a song for the stars! This appealing biography from the Amazing Scientists series is a colorful tribute to this daring scientist and musician.
Margaret Hamilton loved numbers, and to her, the best part of math was when it could solve a problem in the real world! Her love of math introduced her to computers, 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 computer pioneer 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 "human 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!
When Kathy Sullivan was growing up, she hated the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" — because whenever she named an exciting job, people told her it wasn't for girls. But she was determined to change that, so 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. And when she finally got to space in 1984, she made her mark as the first American woman to perform a spacewalk. This inspiring story ends with a note from Sullivan and capsule biographies of other American women space pioneers. It's perfect for budding astronauts, or for anyone who refuses to believe something "isn't for girls."
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, newly independent readers can learn all about Jemison's fascinating life and career. For an inspiring picture book about Jemison, check out Mae Among The Stars.
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. New chapter book readers who are fans of the hit movie Hidden Figures will be excited to read their very own book about Johnson.
This gorgeously illustrated collected biography honors inspirational women who helped fuel some of the greatest achievements in space exploration from the nineteenth century to today! Galaxy Girls pays tribute to fifty pioneering women past and present, from mathematicians to engineers to test pilots to astronauts. Each capsule biography is paired with striking full-page original artwork from the students of the London College of Communication. Perfect for inspiring the space leaders of tomorrow, this stunning book gives this band of heroic sisters and their remarkable and often little known scientific achievements long overdue recognition.
Imagine blasting off into outer space with this book that profiles famous female astronauts — and encourages you to try hands-on STEM activities related to space exploration! The stories of Bonnie Dunbar, Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Sunita Williams, and Serena Auñón-Chancellor soar in this volume, while the included projects like designing and building space rovers and creating a model of the International Space Station develop critical thinking skills. This full-color book from the Gutsy Girls Go For Science series is sure to make her look at the night sky in a whole new way.
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.
This photobiography of the first American woman in space gives a unique peek at the life of Sally Ride! Ride was a competitive tennis player, a book lover, and — believe it or not — an underachiever (at least according to her high school classmates.) After she made history as an astronaut, she also served as an advocate for space exploration and girls and women in science. This book written by Ride's partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, which is full of both personal and media photographs and illuminating and intimate anecdotes, provides a revealing look at this pioneer of space travel.
As a child in a Mexican-American community, everyone expected that Sylvia Acevedo would grow up to marry and stay at home with her children — but Sylvia yearned for adventure. Then she joined the Brownies and her life was transformed. Through the Girl Scouts, she found peers who shared her love of science and role models that fostered her confidence and independence. Acevedo would become a rocket scientist for NASA — and today, she's the CEO of the Girl Scouts, helping other girls follow their dreams. This inspiring memoir is a celebration of resilience and a testament to the transformative impact of the Girl Scouts on many girls' lives.
In 1958 America, as the quest for space was just beginning, NASA had a rule that an astronaut had to have military pilot experience — and of course, the military only accepted men in those roles. But some people wondered if some of the equally daring women pilots of the day belonged on the first space missions. This book tells the little-known story of the Mercury 13 women, who underwent astronaut testing and training decades before the first American woman would go to space. For kids who have grown up with both male and female astronauts, reading about the Mercury 13 and their quest for the stars will shed new light on how far we've come — and how far we have to go.
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
Celebrate the beauty of the night sky with this set of heirloom-quality blocks from Uncle Goose! Sixteen wood blocks come imprinted with constellations, with and without lines, as well as other interesting facts like the constellation symbol, order of magnitude, and more -- and like all Uncle Goose products, they're made in the US with renewable Michigan basswood. For another astronomy-themed set from this great company, check out these Planet Building Blocks.
Blast off into outer space with this great 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, gauges, and Green Toys' signature 8-track! Environmentally conscious parents will also love that it's made from 100% 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.
Get ready to blast off with this terrific astronaut dress-up set from Melissa and Doug! Would-be astronauts will love this set, which includes a spacesuit, a helmet, gloves, and a customizable name tag. This beautifully designed role-play set is made of top-quality materials and built to last through countless adventures and year-round imaginative play.
Let this amazing floor puzzle from Melissa and Doug show kids their place in the universe! This 48 piece puzzle has a finished size of 2 by 3 feet, and the image includes the planets and their moons, the asteroid belt, and more. The extra-large pieces are sturdy and easy to assemble, and the easy-clean wipe down surface ensure this puzzle stays looking like new. It's the perfect choice for budding astronauts and astronomers to bring our solar system into the playroom!
Set your sights on space with this astronaut doll from the Barbie Careers line! In honor of Barbie's 60th anniversary, they're reproducing some of the over 200 careers Barbie has filled. This astronaut doll comes in a spacesuit printed with all the zippers, pockets, and hoses that a real astronaut has, as well as white gloves, boots, and helmet. She's sure to inspire your Mighty Girl to reach for the stars!
Kids will feel like they've blasted into outer space with this tent and tunnel combo from Pacific Play Tents! At 48" square, this two-pole dome tent is big enough for 3 to 4 kids, and since the floor is waterproof, it can be used for indoor or outdoor play. The four 19" diameter tunnels are 4 feet long and easily attach to the tent. It even comes with a handy bag for transport or storage!
The weather may be cold, but that's not going to stop Lottie from doing some stargazing! Lottie Dolls are based on the body of a 9-year-old girl and come with accessories that support a wide range of interests. Stargazer Lottie comes with a space-themed outfit, books about space, and even her own tiny telescope! This 7.5" doll is just the right size to join kids on all their adventures.
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.
Bring the wonder of the night sky into a youngster's room with this light up moon from Uncle Milton! This realistic moon model hangs on your wall and can be set to any of 12 different lunar phases, or to move through the progression of the moon's phases. With the infrared remote, you can control the light from across the room, making it a great nightlight or decor item as well as a unique peek at the night sky. Plus, you can check out the included poster that's full of fun facts and learning activities that will teach you all about our amazing Moon.
This easy-to-use star wheel will help you figure out what stars you can see at any time of night or year! At 8" in diameter, this planisphere makes it easy for stargazers to identify which constellations and major stars are above the horizon. This version is for 30 to 40 degrees of latitude, covering the southern half of the US, North Africa, and the Middle East; stargazers in the northern US and Europe can check out the 40 - 50 degree latitude star wheel, while other versions cover other latitudes.
Learn about the planets in our solar system as you build a detailed replica! This set from 4M includes planets with textured details and an easy-to-assemble base that lets the planets really orbit the sun. Kids will enjoy painting the planets to match their real-life colors, then setting them up on the planetarium base to see how they relate to one another. Don't forget to add Saturn's rings!
Build a tribute to some of the ground-breaking women who took American into space with this much-anticipated set from LEGO Ideas! This fan-designed set features astronomer Nancy Grace Roman; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; astronaut and physicist Sally Ride; and astronaut, physician and engineer Mae Jemison, each as part of a vignette depicting their role with NASA. It's a wonderful way to inspire the women in STEM of future generations!