Meet a member of NASA’s astronaut class of 2017

Zena Cardman, a Pennsylvania State University research fellow was selected as part of NASA’s astronaut class of 2017. Cardman explains the selection process and the role science has played in her life.


Zena Cardman, a Pennsylvania State University research fellow, was selected as part of NASA's astronaut class of 2017.

In this segment, Cardman explains the selection process and the role science has played in her life.

In 2015, NASA began accepting applications for its next class of astronauts.

A record 18,300 people applied.

Only 12 were chosen.

One of them is a graduate student at Penn State.

My name is Zena Cardman.

I am a microbiologist by training, but currently I'm a graduate-research fellow at Penn State University.

I'm actually studying cave slime at the moment, so microorganisms that live underground in caves.

One of the most unique places I've visited is absolutely Antarctica.

It's unlike anything I had ever seen before.

I first went down there when I was maybe 20 years old, and you fly down to the southern tip of Chile, and then you get on an ice-reinforced vessel like one step down from an ice breaker, basically, and you cross the Drake Passage, which is notoriously one of the gnarliest seas in the world.

You keep going, and eventually you see little bits of icebergs floating around and some penguins, and it really feels like you've arrived there, so much more so than trips on planes that I had taken to get somewhere.

Cardman submitted her application to NASA in January 2016.

After two rounds of interviews, she was waiting on one last phone call.

I had a couple friends over that morning to keep me company because I think I would have gone insane otherwise.

They sat around making me breakfast tacos, and we actually started watching 'Apollo 13,' which is embarrassingly cliché. But about halfway through the movie, I got a phone call, and they asked, 'How's your day going?'

And in my head, I'm thinking, 'I don't know. You tell me.'

But I said something like, 'So far, so good.

How are you?'

And they said, 'Well, I think your day is going to get a little bit better.

We'd like you to come join the astronaut office.'

I'll never forget that moment.

It was absolutely surreal and wonderful and a joyful surprise.

What I'm most looking forward to about the training is just getting to know the rest of my classmates.

We got to know each other a little bit when we were in Houston for the two-day announcement.

Everyone is absolutely awesome.

I'm really, really excited to get to work with them.

Besides that, we get to learn how to fly T-38 jets.

I've never been faster than 100 knots in a plane that I was flying, so this is going to be a completely different ballgame.

I'm so excited about that.

My first piece of advice is go for it.

It's possible.

You know, I never would have thought that growing up.

You do need a degree in a STEM field, so science, technology, engineering, math.

One other thing that we all have in common -- you'll look at the class that was just selected -- is we love working in teams and groups.

So keep that in mind as you go through school and beyond school.

And after that, honestly, just pursue something that you love.

If you're waking up feeling inspired and curious about the questions you're asking, then you're going to be happy no matter what the eventual outcome is.