June 15, 2019
For the return to the moon decreed by Donald Trump, NASA promised that there would be an astronaut. Several candidates are favorites.
Anne McClain, a former army helicopter pilot, is one of the favorites. Image Credit: NASA
Twelve women are astronauts at NASA. The suspense is complete, but the woman who will walk on the Moon in 2024 is probably one of them. They are between 40 and 54 years old. They are former military pilots, doctors or PhDs, recruited from thousands by the US Space Agency since the late 1990s.
The twelve astronaut women of NASA. Image Credit: NASA
Predicting which will be chosen to join Neil Armstrong in the history books is impossible, but for several former astronauts and experts, the proximity of the deadline will force NASA to select one of twelve, rather than future beginners.
"I would not be opposed to sending a rookie. But there are enough astronauts who have already flown, who already know how they react in space, "says Eileen Collins, a former astronaut, who flew and commanded the Space Shuttle in the 1990s and 2000s.
"It would be better to send people who have already made at least one flight," said Ken Bowersox, a senior Nasa official. It will be all the easier as they have never been so numerous.
In the beginning, NASA only recruited soldiers and therefore men. The twelve astronauts who walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972 were all men. The first American in space was Sally Ride, in 1983. For the return to the moon decreed by Donald Trump, the program "Artemis", NASA promised that there would be an astronaut.
Anne, Christina, Jessica, Nicole
The four women of the 21st "promotion", recruited in 2013, will represent a good balance between youth and experience. Aged 40 or 41 today, they will each have made their first space stay by 2020.
Anne McClain, former helicopter pilot of the Army, is until end of June in the International Space Station (ISS). An assured look, a clear word, a slight smile: all his being expresses the ineffable "stuff of heroes", this tranquil force of character of the original recruits of NASA.
In the closed room of ISS also floats Christina Koch, engineer and passionate climbing. It will beat, with eleven months, the record of the longest female stay in space.
The duo almost made the first 100% female spacewalk, but a combination problem forced Anne McClain to give way to Nick Hague. "Christina Koch and Anne McClain are my two favorites," says Janet Ivey, host of a children's space show and board member of the National Space Society.
But their two classmates, marine biologist specialist of penguins and geese Jessica Meir and former F/A-18 test pilot Nicole Mann, who participated in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will be all also qualified: they are in full training to go to the ISS. In an interview in 2016, the four declared themselves to be volunteers for Mars if the opportunity arose. We can imagine them refusing the moon.
There is no age for space, they say to NASA. The mythical John Glenn had revolished at 77 years. Nothing therefore excludes the oldest astronaut, Sunita Williams, who is preparing his third space flight and will be 58 in 2024.
Especially since "Nasa has always appreciated the leadership qualities of the test pilots," says Kent Rominger, head of the astronaut's office from 2002 to 2006. "Suni" has flown about 30 aircraft in his military career.
Two other women, Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Kate Rubins, flew recently. Five women have not flown since at least 2010, but remain active.
Woman on the Moon (unknown source)
In the promotion recruited in 2017, there are five women, but their initial training is still not completed. They are not automatically excluded, but the schedule is unfavorable to them, especially as NASA tends to respect the order of seniority, notes Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former astronaut who spent 20 years at the agency.
In the end, the selection process "is quite opaque," he says, with experience. In Houston, the chief astronaut will be keen to compose a team whose profiles will be complementary, between ex-military and scientific, and between different personalities. The mission should have four crew members, two of whom will descend on the moon. Why not two women.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): https://www.nasa.gov/
Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: AFP/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.
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