Meet NASA Astronaut Zena Cardman: Antarctic Adventurer And Trained Poet

Zena Cardman, a future astronaut, seen here in Antarctica.

Although she points out that it wasn’t as “cutthroat” as she imagined, Cardman describes the entire process as “definitely unlike any other job interview that I’d had.” Although much of the interview process remains off-the-record and under wraps, it all sounds a little more like the interviews shown at the start of Men In Black than anything else.

Considering that Cardman’s expertise is in extreme life forms – the sort lurking around deep-sea hydrothermal vents and beneath ice sheets – talk of alien life wouldn’t be amiss here. However, it seems that NASA was far more interested in her as a person, and in her experiences, than her academic background.

“I expected to do so many sit ups in a certain amount of time, or run a mile, or do a hundred pull ups or whatever, but they really are just trying to get to know you,” she explains.

“Really, they want to know if they’re willing to spend six months in a tin can with you.”

Probably not as high-tech as you'd imagine.

In any case, her academic career – much of which was spent on isolated research vessels heading along the coastline of the Southern Continent, along with a small but diverse crew – certainly appealed to the upper echelons of NASA. After all, this sounds a lot like what she will be doing in a couple of years’ time.

“Antarctica is like summer camp for grown-ups, but cold,” Cardman tells us. You work together, you play together. It’s a really great experience because you have all these different types of people with a common goal of doing a science project – from academics to engineers to cooks to electricians.”

She describes her time in Antarctica – “a constant nature documentary” – as instrumental to not just career, but her life. “It’s amazing, getting to see penguins in real life, getting to smell penguins in real life – that last part is less exciting. They are endlessly adorable and fun to watch.”

She added that, on Christmas morning, while they were out on a pair of Zodiac speedboats, “some humpbacks appeared right next to me – you could reach out and touch them if you wanted to. I am so grateful for that experience.”

Penguin spotting - a classic pastime in Antarctica.
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