GradImpact: Becoming an Astronaut by Studying Life (Cave Slime) in Extreme Environments

    With more than 18,300 applications this year, the NASA astronaut program is extremely competitive, but Zena Cardman hoped her diverse set of experiences including working in the engine room of a boat and several Antarctic expeditions might give her the edge. She was right. Cardman, a doctoral student in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State University, was recently named a member of NASA’s 2017 class of astronauts. The 12 men and women were recognized during a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on June 7.


    Cardman’s research in the geosciences focuses on microbe-rock interactions and what those interactions reveal about life on Earth and perhaps life elsewhere. The possibility of life on other planets drives her research interests, including her current work on the alien-like lifeforms found growing on walls of damp, remote caves. “I’m especially interested in life that lives in oddball environments on Earth, the extremophiles,” said Cardman. “For me, that’s a good analogy for environments that might be habitable on another planet.”


    In August, Cardman must report to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for training that will include flying jets, learning Russian, taking mock spacewalks, and getting to know her teammates. She’ll be in the candidate-training program for two years before she becomes a full astronaut and qualifies for spaceflight missions. To read more about Zena’s work, visit the Penn State website.


    **Photo Credit: NASA



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