Heroes

4 women at NASA are currently training to become the first to walk on Mars.

NASA's class of 2013 might just have what it takes to visit the red planet and make history.

4 women at NASA are currently training to become the first to walk on Mars.

Astronauts are dreamers.

Astronauts look up to the stars and say, "I want to go there." Not metaphorically either, like a grandparent or graduation speaker might imply. They literally want to go up there and look around. Luckily for those dreamers, if they work hard enough they actually can do it.

But let's be clear. It's hard to be an astronaut. Really hard.


You think just anyone gets to carry around that lunchbox? Think again. Photo by Shamil Zhumatov/AFP/Getty Images.

A particular combination of skill, education, experience, and "The Right Stuff" is what's necessary to go to space.

In 2013, eight people became NASA's newest class of astronauts. For the first time, half of them are women.

Nicknamed "the Eight Balls" (let's not think too much about how a team with four men and four women came up with that name), the 2013 class represents the future of NASA and space travel for more than one reason.

NASA's Class of 2013. Top from left: Jessica Meir, Josh Cassada, Victor Glover, Andrew Morgan, and Christina Hammock. Bottom from left: Anne McClain, Tyler Hague, and Nicole Aunapu Mann. Photo from NASA/Wikimedia Commons

First, the class represents what you might call a "giant leap" for women in space.

Although women have been going to space since 1963, there has never been a class of NASA astronauts with a 1:1 male-to-female ratio. It's indicative not only of an evolving administration that seeks to find more gender diversity each year, but also the rising number of women in science, a field that is still largely male-dominated.

Second, members of the Eight Balls might be among those selected to go to Mars.

That's right. We're going to Mars! Eventually. It'll take at least 15 years before NASA is even ready to hit the big red launch button (they do have a big red launch button, right?), but when the class of 2013 was selected, NASA announced that they'd be among those in the running for the inaugural trip to the red planet.

Understandably, the Eight Balls are pretty excited.

"I grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I can't recall ever not wanting to be an astronaut," astronaut Anne McClain told Glamour Magazine.

McClain, like her colleagues, was chosen from 6,100 other qualified applicants. She's flown attack helicopters on the front lines of Iraq and has master's degrees in both international security and aerospace engineering (just in case you were wondering what the competition is like).

Astronaut Anne McClain in front of her attack helicopter. I don't know which is more badass. Photo via NASA/Youtube.

Rounding out the other women in the class are Nicole Aunapu Mann, who served multiple tours in Iraq flying fighter jets with the Marine Corps; Christina Hammock Koch, who spent a year in the south pole supercooling telescopes with 10,000 gallons of liquid helium; and Jessica Meir, who has a Ph.D. in marine biology and experience diving under several feet of ice in Antarctica.

15 or so years from now, these women could be among the first human beings to set foot on Mars.

Despite the fact that women have been going to space for over 50 years, there are still people who question the skills and abilities of women who dream of going to space. It wasn't that long ago that Russia's female astronauts were questioned about their makeup before an eight-day stay in a mock spacecraft to prepare for a moon mission.

Make no mistake, these women aren't any less skilled or prepared than their male counterparts just because they're women. These women are highly trained. They've got The Stuff. They've got What It Takes.

"If we go to Mars, we'll be representing our entire species in a place we've never been before," McClain says, "To me it's the highest thing a human being can achieve."

Indeed, a successful trip to Mars would probably afford human beings the most bragging rights we've had since we came down from trees, stood up on our hind legs, and invented the slap-chop.

Besides, as McClain points out, when it comes to venturing into the great reaches of outer space, "We're all just part of team human."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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