From left: Kayla Barron, Zena Cardman, Jessica Watkins, Jessica Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara. Credit: NASA

All five of the women in NASA’s latest class of astronaut candidates followed a passion for adventure and science to get where they are today and are inspirations for the next generation of NASA scientists.

Kayla Barron, Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Loral O’Hara and Jessica Watkins are nearing the end of two years of intensive training that began in August 2017. They were selected out of more than 18,300 applicants, the most NASA has ever received for a single class.

Zena Cardman

Interest in science started early for Zena Cardman, as evidenced by the book she made in elementary school that she recently shared on social media. Her research exhibitions have taken her from Antarctica to the Arctic. She studies microorganisms that thrive in harsh environments like caves, hydrothermal vents and even oil spills. Cardman believes studying organisms living in extreme conditions on Earth can help scientists looking for signs of life on other planets.

Educational materials courtesy 3rd grade me

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Loral O’Hara

Loral O’Hara grew up on NASA’s doorstep, just 53 kilometers from Johnson Space Center, where the candidates are in training. As a student, she participated in a number of NASA programs that exposed her to advanced flight technology. She built a career in the private sector as an aerospace engineer, working on remotely operated vehicles similar to the ones NASA uses in its planetary explorations.

Jessica Watkins

Jessica Watkins has worked with NASA’s California labs for years. Armed with a doctorate in geology, she studies the progression of land formations on Mars. She was on the team operating Curiosity, the Mars rover that discovered boron in Gale crater, a sign that the planet could have supported life at some point. As an astronaut, Watkins could be a part of NASA’s first human mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Kayla Barron

Kayla Barron never considered a career in space until she met some astronauts at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. By then, she had already made history as one of the Navy’s first female submarine officers. When Barron was accepted by NASA, her boss, the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, told the Baltimore Sun that “America will fall in love with her.”

Jasmin Moghbeli

Jasmin Moghbeli has been preparing for NASA’s call since a 6th grade project on the first woman in space left her in awe. She attended Space Camp in high school and studied aeronautic engineering at MIT. When a Marine Corps recruiter told her military aviation was a woman’s surest route to NASA’s flight crew, she signed up as a fighter pilot. Moghbeli’s family immigrated to the United States from Iran when she was young, and she credits this opportunity to their adopted home.

Laurie Sullivan

The five astronauts-in-training provide young girls with role models that STEM teachers like Laurie Sullivan greatly value. Sullivan teaches a class in Virginia called Project Discovery, an extracurricular STEM course that uses NASA resources to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

She sees her female students enthusiastic about STEM when they are young, but become discouraged as they get older. To keep that passion alive, she tells them about scientists and astronauts as kids, and shows them overcoming challenges to reach the stars.