In the 1960s, NASA sent a rejection letter to a hopeful astronaut simply because she was female. At the time, there was no impetus to set up a training program for women. How times have changed: The latest class of NASA astronauts is comprised of 50 percent women for the first time in history, as reported by The New York Times.
The latest people training to be astronauts for NASA were recruited in 2013. All of them are potential candidates for human missions to Mars, something NASA announced they were aiming to achieve by the end of the 2030s. Of course, female astronauts aren’t new: Helen Sharman, Sally Ride, and Valentina Tereshkova have all already shown that being an astronaut isn’t dependent on gender.
Mars is the prime target for the space agency for a plethora of reasons. According to The New York Times, Dr. Jessica Meir, one of the candidates that may be setting foot on the Martian soil, notes that “Mars can teach us so much about the past, present, and future of our own planet.”
Earning her Ph.D. in marine biology studying emperor penguins in Antarctica, Meir comments that she has always been used to remote spaces, and space itself certainly won’t buck that trend. Christina Hammock Koch also spent a long time in the South Pole, helping to maintain the telescopes there. Nicole Aunapu Mann had a very different past life: She flew fighter jets with the Marine Corps over Iraq.
— NASA (@NASA) January 7, 2016
In order to be selected for the astronaut program, Meir and her colleagues had to stand out from a pool of over 6,000 initial candidates. They endured two years of training flying T-38 supersonic jets, learning how to perform complex tasks underwater, and regularly flying on the “vomit comet,” a plane journey that simulates zero-gravity environments by intentionally and periodically diving towards the Earth.
Unsurprisingly, the most difficult part of any mission to Mars will likely be the long time they will be separated from loved ones. At its closest, the Red Planet is 56 million kilometers (35 million miles) away, meaning that with current technology, it’ll take nine months to get there. The return journey, plus a month or so they would spend on the Martian surface, means that they could be away for at least a year and a half.
Astronaut Anne McClain, however, clearly believes the perspective you get from space is worth the emotional strain. “From space, you can’t see borders. What you see is this lonely planet,” she told Glamour magazine. “Here we all are on it, so angry at one another. I wish more people could step back and see how small Earth is and how reliant we are on one another.”
The 1960s rejection letter. come_on_now_guys/Reddit