In 2013, Jessica Meir, Anne McClain, Christina Hammock Koch, and Nicole Aunapu Mann became one half of NASA’s latest class of astronauts, marking the first time a class of astronauts was half made up of women. It’s a good class to be in, too — they’ll be under consideration for a manned mission to Mars, something that could feasibly take place within the next two decades. Earlier this month, Glamour ran a pretty cool interview with the four women who could inspire a new generation of would-be spacefarers with a trip to the red planet.
The quartet talk about their childhood dreams of becoming astronauts, the challenges of training, and what a trip to Mars might mean for them. The training, as you might expect, is no joke — it involves something dubbed the ‘vomit comet,’ which amounts to an empty plane that gets taken way up before being put into a free fall, simulating weightlessness. Even the training sounds like the stuff childhood dream are made of, though — flying supersonic jets and working on projects under 40 feet of water.
The hardest challenges might be of a more personal nature. Some of the women are married with children, and the trip to Mars isn’t a short one. In the interview, they also talk about the prospects of leaving spouses and children behind for two to three years, which is the projected length of a mission to Mars from takeoff to return. Personal effects are limited, too — the weight of the rocket has to be meticulously regulated and planned in advance to ensure that the rocket has enough fuel to get to Mars and come back to Earth.
In fact, there’s an interesting line of thinking that says the more women on board a mission to Mars, the better, and it’s for exactly this reason. In 2014, Slate ran a story by Kate Greene, a writer who took part in a NASA simulation of life on Mars for astronauts on a potential mission. The simulation, which took place in a geodesic dome in Hawaii over the course of four months, involved three men and three women eating, exercising, and living as astronauts would on a real mission. The crew ended up with some unexpected findings — the women burned fewer calories than men, by as much as 50 percent, while still maintaining the same amount of energy. That’s a big deal on a mission to Mars — having to pack less food can cut down on the weight of the rocket, making the entire mission more financially feasible.
You can read more about these astronauts over on Glamour. Then, make sure you remember their names — they could be in history books before long.
Photos via Glamour