NASA’s New Astronauts Reach Gender Parity

(Clockwise from top left: Astronauts Hammock, McClain, Mann, Meir)

Closely following the 50th anniversary this past Sunday of Russian Valentina Tereshkova becoming the first woman in space and the 30th anniversary of Sally Ride’s famous flight today, NASA has named four women to be among its class of eight new astronauts trainees—the first time that the U.S. space agency has achieved gender parity in a class of new astronauts.

The four women, Christina Hammock, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Anne McClain and Jessica Meir, were chosen from more than 6,000 applicants. McClain trained as a helicopter pilot, Mann served as a major in the U.S. Marine Corps, Hammock worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Meir worked for Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Said Janet Kavandi, director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center,

This year we have selected 8 highly qualified individuals who have demonstrated impressive strengths academically, operationally and physically. They have diverse backgrounds and skill sets that will contribute greatly to the existing astronaut corps. Based on their incredible experiences to date, I have every confidence that they will apply their combined expertise and talents to achieve great things for NASA and this country in the pursuit of human exploration.

These women will be creating new firsts as well. NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that they may help lead the first human mission to Mars, which would not happen until at least 2030. Until then, the astronauts would conduct research on the International Space Station, test new space technologies and work on a NASA project to drag an asteroid into the moon’s orbit. Said Bolden,

These new space explorers asked to join NASA because they know we’re doing big, bold things here—developing missions to go farther into space than ever before.

Twelve of NASA’s 49 current active-duty astronauts are women. In all, 55 women have flown in space (43 of them Americans), making up a little more than 10 percent of all astronauts. While Russia was the first country to have women astronauts, there have only been another 18 in their program since Tereshkova, and of those only three have actually flown in space. The last time a Russian woman flew in space was 1994, and there are currently only two active Russian women astronauts. China’s space program just sent its first woman into space last year.

Photo the astronauts from NASA under license from Creative Commons 2.0