With a goal to place the next man — as well as the first woman — on the Moon by 2024, NASA will soon decide who will take part in the the first crewed mission to our planetary companion in five decades. Between 1969 and 1972, the Apollo program placed 12 astronauts on the lunar surface. Each was extremely qualified, dedicated, and carried out their missions with astounding abilities. Yet, as Caucasian American males, they represented, in many ways, just a small portion of the human race.
With the Artemis program gearing up to take human beings back to the Moon, NASA has already announced the next flight to the lunar surface will include a woman. The space agency has not yet announced the crew for the Artemis 3 mission to place human beings on the Moon, but they have offered tantalizing clues which significantly narrow the list of potential candidates.
“She is already in the astronaut corps. It will be somebody who has been proven, somebody who has flown, somebody who has been on the International Space Station already. We’re looking for, of course, the most qualified candidates, and we have some amazingly talented and highly-qualified candidates,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated.
Currently, the space agency has 38 astronauts ready to fly to space, 12 of whom are women fitting the criteria supplied by Bridenstine. Assuming NASA is the next organization to place boots on the crust of the Moon, one of these dozen astronauts is nearly certain to be the first woman to walk on the Moon.
Dr. Auñón-Chancellor has been a member of NASA since 2006, when she became employed as a flight surgeon at the Johnson Space Center. Three years later, she entered the astronaut training program, as one of 14 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class.
Born on April 9, 1976 in Indianapolis, Indiana, she graduated from Poudre High School in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1993. She later earned a degree in electrical engineering, followed by a doctorate in medicine and she is board-certified in internal and aerospace medicine.
During two months between 2010 and 2011, she lived in Antarctica, searching for meteorites. For most of this period, she was just 370 kilometers (230 miles) from the South Pole. The following year, she piloted the Deep Worker submersible as part of NEEMO 16, an underwater exercise simulating a visit to an asteroid by human space travelers.
She spent more than nine months at Star City in Russia, supporting crew members of the International Space Station (ISS). From June 5 to December 20, 2018, Auñón-Chancellor served as Flight engineer aboard the ISS during Expeditions 56 and 57, taking part in hundreds of experiments, including operations aimed at understanding cancer and the growth of bacteria and algae. So far, this has been her lone flight to space.
In her free time, she volunteers as a doctor in a free clinic, practices martial arts, and enjoys watching baseball games.
Tracy Caldwell Dyson
If she is chosen to be the first woman to walk on the Moon, Dr. Tracy Caldwell Dyson would (likely) be just the second scientist to set foot on the lunar surface, following the 1972 flight of geologist Harrison Schmitt. Dyson holds a doctorate in chemistry.
Born in Arcadia, California, Dyson earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from CSU Fullerton in 1993. While there, she designed electronic systems to study atmospheric chemistry. While earning her doctorate at UC Davis, Dyson taught general chemistry, and she is the author of several peer-reviewed journals in chemistry and material science.
Dyson was selected as an astronaut in June 1998, and served as the prime crew support astronaut for Expedition 5 to the International Space Station. She has flown in space twice, logging 188 days in space, including a flight on the space shuttle Endeavour in August 2007. During this mission, she traveled 8.5 million kilometers (5.3 million miles), and carried out four space walks. Three years later, Dyson returned to space, launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz TMA 18 crew capsule, headed to the ISS. After 174 days in space (including 22 hours and 49 minutes of time performing spacewalks), she returned back to Earth on September 25, 2010.
Dr. Dyson was a sprinter and long jumper during her days at CSU, and today, she enjoys hiking, auto repair, and sports.
Christina Koch is an engineer, currently residing on the International Space Station. She arrived at the ISS in March 2019, where she is expected to stay until February 2020. After nearly a year in space, she will have captured the all-time record for the most time logged by a woman on a single space mission, surpassing current record-holder Peggy Whitson, who spent 288 days beyond the Earth.
In many measures, Koch is the most experienced of all the women being considered by NASA to walk on the Moon. This vast experience will give her a distinct advantage when the space agency selects the Artemis crew destined to travel to our planetary companion.
Koch was born in Michigan, but considers Jacksonville, North Carolina to be her home. In 1997, she graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, North Carolina, and earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering four years later. The following year, she was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering.
“Koch moved on to become a Research Associate in the United States Antarctic Program from 2004 to 2007. She completed a winter‐over season at the Admunsen‐Scott South Pole Station and a season at Palmer Station. While in Antarctica, she was a member of the Firefighting Teams and Ocean/Glacier Search and Rescue Teams,” NASA reports.
Personal interests include outdoor activities such as hiking, rock climbing, sailing, paddling, and running. She practices yoga, and enjoys photography, travel, and volunteering in her community.
Nicole Aunapu Mann
Nicole Mann is an engineer, currently training for the first crewed test flight of the Starliner spacecraft being developed by Boeing. Although she has not yet reached space, this test mission will provide her with experience beyond the atmosphere.
Born in Petaluma, California on June 27, 1977, she graduated from Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, California. Mann holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.
She completed astronaut candidate training in July 2015, and led the astronaut corps in the development of the Orion spacecraft, and worked in the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS).
Mann has amassed over 2,500 hours of flight time in 25 types of aircraft. She currently lives in Houston.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Megan earned a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles as well as a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of California, San Diego. While earning her graduate degree, McArthur carried out research at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. While at Scripps, she volunteered at the Birch Aquarium, educating visitors inside the 70,000 gallon California Kelp Forest.
“Towards the end of my studies at UCLA I got interested in a project with some other aerospace engineering students that was called the Human Powered Submarine Races, or Human Powered Submarine Project, and what we did, basically, was we built a small two-person submarine, and raced it against some other colleges,” McArthur recalls.
In order to take part in the contest, Dr. McArthur completed her certification in scuba diving. She has since served as chief scientist during at-sea data collection operations, and led deep-sea missions placing instruments on the ocean floor and collected sediment from deep beneath the waves.
In July 2000, NASA selected McArthur as a new mission specialist, before she launched into orbit aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. During the flight, McArthur captured the world’s best-known space telescope, using the space shuttle’s robotic arm.
“McArthur served as a Mission Specialist aboard STS-125, the final space shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The successful mission improved the telescope’s capabilities and extended its life — it is still in operation today. In completing her first space mission, McArthur has logged almost 13 days in space,” NASA reports.
McArthur, who considers California to be her home state, currently resides in San Jose, California. She takes part in SCUBA diving, backpacking, and cooking.
Currently 40 years old, McClain is the youngest woman in contention to walk on the lunar surface.
She was born in Spokane, Washington, and graduated from Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Washington, in 1997. McClain went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical/Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2002. Two years later, she graduated with a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Bath in England.
As flight engineer on Expedition 58 and 59, McClaine launched to the ISS on December 3. 2018, aboard a Soyuz MS-11, on her first flight to space. The Expedition 59 crew also included fellow astronaut Christina Koch. This crew carried out numerous experiments in fields as diverse as biology, physical and Earth sciences, and editing DNA in space for the first time ever.
On June 24, 2019 McCaline returned home after spending more than six months aboard the ISS.
An accomplished pilot, she has completed more than 2,000 hours of flight time on 20 different aircraft.
McClain spends her free time lifting weights, playing rugby, golf, biking, crossfit, and running.
The daughter of a pair of immigrants, Jessica Meir was born in Caribou, Maine, where she attended Caribou High School.
Dr. Meir studied Brown University, where she was awarded a Bachelor of Arts in Biology, followed by graduate studies at Scripps Institution, earning a doctorate in marine biology. While at Scripps, Meir studied the effects of extreme environments on animals.
“Meir’s career focused on the physiology of animals in extreme environments, studying emperor penguins in the Antarctic, elephant seals in California, and bar-headed geese in studies at the University of British Columbia and in Mongolia,” NASA reports.
She was assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital, where she continued work her studies of the effects of extreme environments on animals. Meir also took part in diving expeditions to Belize and the Antarctic, led by the Smithsonian Institution.
Meir spent three years, between 2000 and 2003, examining the effects of space travel on human physiology. During this period, she took part in research on NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft and the Aquarius underwater habitat. She completed her astronaut training in July 2015.
Meir has not yet visited space, but she is scheduled to visit the International Space Station, along with Christina Koch, as part of Expedition 61. After traveling to orbit aboard a Soyuz MS spacecraft, Meir will spend six months aboard the ISS.
A private pilot who is also conversational in Swedish, Meir enjoys running, cycling, playing soccer, and SCUBA diving.
Kathleen “Kate” Rubins
Microbiologist Kate Rubins has conducted research on smallpox, Ebloa, and the Marburg virus. While stationed aboard the ISS, Rubins participated in two spacewalks and became the first person to ever sequence DNA in space.
Born in Farmington, Connecticut in 1978, Rubins was raised Napa, California, where she graduated from Vintage High School in 1996.
Rubins went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology from the University of California. Following that accomplishment, she graduated from the Stanford University Medical School with a Ph.D. in cancer biology.
“Dr. Rubins conducted her undergraduate research on HIV-1 integration in the Infectious Diseases Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. She worked as a Fellow/Principal Investigator at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and headed 14 researchers studying viral diseases that primarily affect Central and West Africa,” NASA states in a biography of the astronaut.
Selected as an astronaut in 2009, Rubins made her first journey to space as part of Expedition 48/49. This flight was the first test of the newly-designed MS Soyuz spacecraft. She spent 115 days aboard the space station between July and October 2016, before returning to Earth. During her mission, she spent 12 hours and 46 minutes conducting spacewalks.
Dr. Rubins was named to Popular Science’s Brilliant Ten in 2009. She spends much of her free time running, swimming, cycling, flying, SCUBA diving and reading.
A Houston native, Shannon Walker was born June 6, 1965 and graduated from Westbury Senior High in 1983.
She earned three degrees at Rice University in the Space City, including a Bachelor of Arts in Physics, a Master’s degree in science, and doctorate in philosophy.
Six years after being named to NASA’s astronaut program in 2004, Walker flew to the space station was a Flight Engineer on Expedition 24/25. She spent a total of 163 days aboard the orbiting outpost, and was the co-pilot during landing on June 15, 2010.
“I would love to fly to the Moon or Mars… I also want to encourage young people to think about what the future can be like if we work together to accomplish difficult goals, such as the exploration of space,” Dr. Walker relates.
Walker worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, managing a team of engineers monitoring the health of space travelers aboard the ISS.
She moved to Moscow in 1999 to work with the Russian Space Agency on challenges related to living aboard the International Space Station.
Dr. Walker once traveled aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway between Moscow and Bejing, during her time working in Russia.
She has served as Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) at mission control in Houston, the primary communication link between the ISS and ground control.
In 2007, Dr. Walker began training for a long-term visit to the ISS, and four years later, she earned the title of aquanaut by spending 24 hours underwater. She is just the 35th person to earn the distinction of being both an astronaut and an aquanaut. Between 2014 and 2015, she traveled to Antarctica in search of meteorites.
Her husband, Andy Thomas, is also an astronaut. In her free time, Walker enjoys cooking, weight training, running, flying, camping, and traveling.
Stephanie Wilson has traveled to space three times, more than any other woman being considered to walk on the Moon. She has logged 42 days in space, during a hat trick of missions conducted in 2006, 2007, and 2010.
Born in Boston in 1966, Wilson attended high school in PIttsfield, Massachusetts, graduating in 1984.
Wilson later attended Harvard University, where she completed her Bachelor’s Degree in engineering science in 1992. She then went to the University of Texas, winning her master’s in aerospace engineering. Her graduate research, focused on the control and modeling of large, flexible objects in space, was funded by a NASA fellowship.
Starting in 1992, Wilson worked for Jet Propulsion Laboratory, including work on the Galileo spacecraft orbiting Jupiter.
Wilson joined the astronaut corps in 1996, completing two years of training before becoming certified as a mission specialist. She later served on NASA’s Astronaut Selection Boards in 2008, 2013, and 2017. In her position as CAPCOM, Wilson was the main contact on Earth for several crews aboard the ISS and space shuttles.
She has won the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 2009 and 2011, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in 2018.
Sunita Lyn Williams was born September 19, 1965 in Euclid, Ohio. She attended Needham High School in Massachusetts, graduating in 1983.
Williams earned a Bachelor of Science in Physical Science at the U.S. Naval Academy, and completed studies at the Florida Institute of Technology, graduating in 1995 with an M.S. in engineering management.
In 1998, she entered astronaut training and traveled to Moscow. There, Williams worked on robotics with the Russian space agency Roskosmos.
Williams has logged over 2,700 hours of flying time in more than 30 types of aircraft. She flew relief missions above Miami in 1992, supporting relief efforts following Hurricane Andrew.
She made her first flight to space aboard the space shuttle Discovery on December 9, 2006. Williams served as a flight engineer on the STS-116 mission, supporting Expeditions 14 and 15 on the space station. During the course of this mission, Williams took part in four space walks, totaling over 29 hours outside the spacecraft.
“I had the opportunity to do a couple spacewalks while I was up there, and just having that visor between you and the outside of space was just incredible, and to look and see Northern Lights, as well as our beautiful planet out into space was just amazing. Just incredible,” Williams stated.
During her 195 days in space, Williams participated in the Boston Marathon by running 26.2 miles on the treadmill aboard the ISS.
Williams was the second astronaut of Indian heritage to travel to space, following Kalpana Chawla, who perished when the space shuttle Columbia burned up on re-entry in 2003.
She traveled to space once again on July 15, 2012, and served as a flight engineer for Expedition 32, and commander of Expedition 33. Williams took three more space walks during this time, adding 21 hours to her time floating freely in space. During this mission, she participated in a triathlon, utilizing a treadmill, a stationary bicycle, and a weightlifting machine to simulate a swimming course. She returned to Earth 127 days after reaching space, giving Williams a total of 321 days in space, the second longest experience in space for a woman after Peggy Whitson.
Williams was selected as one of four astronauts to participate in the the Commercial Crew program from NASA, testing two private spacecraft, the Crew Dragon from SpaceX and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. In 2020, Williams is scheduled to fly to the ISS, once more, aboard the Starliner, a spacecraft she is helping to design with Boeing.
Williams spent nine days underwater in the Aquarius habitat as a crew member of NEEMO2. She is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Society of Flight TestEngineers, and the American Helicopter Association.
Although born in Ohio, Williams considers Needham, Massachusetts to be her hometown, and she is an avid fan of New England sports teams. She also enjoys raising dogs, exercise, repairing and maintaining cars, flying, hiking, and camping.
“I know exactly who I am. I’m the Doctor. Sorting out fair play throughout the universe.”
The 13th Dr. Who, portrayed by Jodie Whittaker
As of June 2019, 347 Americans have flown in space, including 49 women. The first American woman to ride to space was Sally Ride in 1983, who flew 20 years after the historic mission of Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.
When offered a bouquet of roses following her historic flight, Sally Ride refused the gift.
“She was not interested in being treated differently than the rest of the members of her crew because she was the one woman on that mission,” recalls Margaret Weitekamp, curator of space history at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum and the author of Right Stuff, Wrong Sex: America’s First Women in Space Program.
Since the beginning of the world’s space programs, women have played vital roles in the exploration of the final frontier. Too many of these pioneers, including Jerrie Cobb and the other female members of the Mercury 13, have been, unfairly, largely lost to history.
Nations (especially China), as well as corporations, are currently competing to see who will be the next to place humans on the surface of the Moon. NASA remains the only space agency to complete the task, but much has changed in the last 45 years. One major change still to come will be seen the day we watch a woman place her boots on the lunar crust.
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