Education, Engineering

Astronaut Selection Criteria & Tips

If there’s one place you’re almost certain to encounter an astronaut it’s NASA’ s Johnson Space Center. JSC is home to the astronaut corps and the people that select this elite group of men and women.

Throughout my time at NASA, both as a co-op during my college years and now as a full-time employee, I’ve had the opportunity to work and speak with current and former astronauts and even the very woman in charge of the astronaut selection process. Many people are surprised to find that the basic requirements to apply are fairly straightforward.

All astronauts can be lumped into two categories: pilot or non-pilot. The following are a list of minimum requirements that must be met before applying. Click here for more information.

  1. A Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics. Degrees in technology, psychology, nursing, aviation, social sciences, exercise physiology are considered non-qualifying.
  2. At least 3 years of relevant, progressively responsible professional experience OR at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in a high performance jet aircraft (these are generally your military pilots who often happen to be graduates of a military test pilot school). Advanced degrees are desirable (and almost certainly increase your changes of being selected) and can be substituted for years of experience (Master’s degree=1 year of experience, Ph.D.=3 years of experience).
  3. Ability to pass NASA’s long-duration astronaut physical which is very comprehensive and from what I’m told, often the largest hurdle to clear once a person has made it to the interview portion of the application process.

Interestingly, military helicopter pilots are considered non-pilot astronauts. Take Shane Kimbrough, Sunita (Suni) Williams, and Anne McClain as examples. Civilian applicants must apply during an open application period through USAJOBS ( and active duty military members must submit applications both through this site and to their respective military service.

It may not come as a surprise that NASA looks for many of the same traits in its astronaut candidates that any employer values when interviewing candidates for a position. Leadership, teamwork, and good communication skills are all important to the selection committee. Current astronauts themselves sit on the selection board to provide insight into whether they believe an applicant is the right fit for the job. After all, they want to be sure to select people they’d have to work with (and tolerate!) for extended periods of 6 months to a year, or even more as we look towards Mars.

So what’s the secret?

Every astronaut I’ve ever spoken to for tips about being selected (namely Shane Kimbrough and Karen Nyberg) has had almost the same answer. Choose a career and hobbies that you love. Every astronaut I’ve come across will tell you that they are extremely lucky to have been selected. NASA is not seeking a group of people looking to check boxes off a list of requirements, but rather those who are passionate about what they do. Do not get an engineering degree, join the military, or get a pilot’s license solely for the purpose of boosting your resume for the astronaut program. This is likely to lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. I am of the opinion that passion is what makes you the best at what you do. This is why the list of requirements seems so simple and attainable-there is no ideal person for this job. NASA wants a passionate and diverse group in order to build the best team for its missions. NASA currently has 38 active astronauts. The chances of being selected, especially on a first attempt, are not impossible but the chances are not immediately stacked in your favor. NASA wants people who, although obviously disappointed, are so passionate about what they do they would be happy in the careers they’re currently in whether they were to be selected or not. In fact, people often apply many times before they are selected. Clayton Anderson was rejected 14 times before finally being selected in 1998.

Applications for the Astronaut Candidate Program typically open about every 4 years these days. It is reasonable to assume the next call for applications will occur sometime around 2021. I’m definitely applying next time they open up, will you?!

Ad Astra,





A friend recently sent me an article about a former NASA intern who shut down a guy on dating app Hinge after he insulted her intelligence. In response to her prompt that the dorkiest thing about her was that she worked at NASA, he followed with “So what are you, the receptionist? Jk, you look reasonably smart.” She proceeded to serve him some wisdom:

Initially this infuriated me because this sort of response is something that is not foreign to me. As a female navigating a field dominated by men, I’ve encountered my fair share of stereotypes and biases. On my first internship during my undergraduate studies, I remember the receptionist telling me I was too bubbly to be an engineer. Although I’m sure it wasn’t her intention to insult me and I certainly didn’t take particular offense to the comment, it really made me think about what the all male staff in the office thought about my abilities as an engineer.

In my final year of undergrad, I interviewed several engineering students for a research paper focused retention of engineering students, particularly women. One of my close friends revealed to me for the first time that on several of her internships she often dressed in baggy, masculine clothing so as not to stand out. When she told me this, my heart broke a little bit. For all the times that I’d felt out of place in the classroom because I was too girly, or too loud, too bubbly, I suddenly recognized that I wasn’t the only one. Sadly, however, this isn’t a product of engineering, or of being a woman, it is a product of our society deciding for us what we ought to look like, sound like, who we should be if we choose a particular field of work. Our career and our job title are just that-titles. They do not define who we are, but what we do for 40 hours every week. The hashtag #ILookLikeanEngineer is a reminder that we can dress, talk, look, and sound how we want and we all deserve to be respected in the fields in which we work. We all look like engineers.


A Day in the Life of an Aerospace Engineer

When I started my studies as an engineering student at RIT, I had no idea what engineers did, just that I wanted to be one so that I could score my dream job at NASA. When I speak at outreach events I often get asked by young people, “What does your average day at work look like?” So, as I celebrate my one year work-iversary, what better way to explain than to run through my average day at work as I’ve experienced it over the last year?

I currently work at NASA Johnson Space Center in the Aircraft Operations Division’s Engineering Branch. We provide sustaining engineering support and upgrades to JSC’s fleet of more than 25 aircraft which support astronaut Spaceflight Readiness Training, fly airborne science missions all over the world, and provide direct return services to our astronauts when they land back on Earth from the International Space Station. I wanted to give you a (very) small glimpse into what a typical day might look like for an engineer working in my field.

8:00: I generally arrive at work between 7 and 8 a.m. depending on what’s planned for the day. I start by catching up on e-mails and checking in with the Gulfstream mechanics to see if they have any questions pertaining to ongoing tasks I may have requested them to work on through an Engineering Work Order

9:00: On Wednesday mornings our Gulfstream team of engineers, pilots, maintenance, and the program manager gets together to discuss the status of the program. This is an opportunity to get everyone on the same page with the schedule and status of both our GIII and GV jets.

We use this Gulfstream GV to pick up astronauts when they land in Kazakhstan from the International Space Station. We also fly airborne science all over the world in this aircraft.

Background: Our Gulfstream GV has recently returned from Georgia where it was modified to include two large cutouts in the bottom of the aircraft. Two fused silica optical glass windows will soon be installed in the nadir viewports to better serve our Airborne Science customers.

Practicing window cleaning on an old Space Shuttle window.

I’ve been designated as the GV Window Systems Engineer. In this role I am responsible for ensuring our windows are cleaned, handled, and maintained properly. This is an important task as each of these windows costs upwards of $25,000 and take approximately 8 weeks to manufacture. In this role I am also responsible for using fracture mechanics principles to ensure that the proper time to failure of the window has been calculated to keep our aircrew and customers safe during science flights. If damage is discovered on the windows, I am responsible for providing engineering disposition. I love that I am able to apply some of the concepts I learned in graduate school to my job and doing so has helped to build self-confidence in my technical abilities as they relate to engineering.

One of our fused silica windows-it is 1.5” thick!

10:00: Although we have the option to use other materials (stretched acrylic has recently been found to have fantastic optical quality while being lighter, more cost effective, and easier to maintain), our first customer has chosen to utilize fused silica. This material has great optical clarity but is highly susceptible to damage and static fatigue. After receiving a piece of glass, we perform a “receiving inspection” to ensure no damage is present and to check that the manufacturer has provided us with a piece of glass that meets the specifications we requested on the order.

Background: One of the first projects assigned to me upon starting full-time at NASA was to get both Gulfstream aircraft ready to support the Commercial Crew Program by providing capability to transport up to four astronauts directly from their spacecraft’s landing site back to Houston. It’s important to get them back as quickly as possible so that valuable science data isn’t lost.

The Commercial Crew office coordinates with Commercial Crew partners Boeing and SpaceX who will soon launch astronauts to the International Space Station from the U.S. These upcoming launches are exciting because they will be the first time we have launched Americans to the ISS from U.S. soil since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011.

12:00: I hold a CDR (Critical Design Review) to get buyoff from both the customer (Commercial Crew Program) and important Aircraft Operations Division and Engineering Branch management to ensure they are comfortable moving forward with my designs. If any action items or safety concerns are brought up by attendees at the meeting, it will be my responsibility to make any necessary changes to the design in order to receive final approval to modify the aircraft. These design reviews are reminiscent of the design reviews I was responsible for holding during Senior Design class in undergrad. I must walk management through the customer requirements and how I plan to meet them, my design and what I plan to modify on the aircraft, complete a risk analysis that the safety engineers must sign off on, and my projected budget and schedule as well as maintenance impacts.

1:00: I head out to the hangar to meet the vendor that will be installing carpet in the aircraft for my Commercial Crew aircraft modification project. I pick the carpet color and discuss where they will need to cut the carpet in order to accommodate existing seating as well as equipment I will be adding for my project. I’m a very hands-on person so one of my favorite parts of this job is that I can go out to the hangar, get on the airplane, and check measurements or whatever else I need to see in order to better complete my project.

3:00: At CDR, 90% of the design must be complete. I have two aircraft installation drawings to complete so that it is clear for the mechanics where the beds and oxygen tanks I have included in my design should be installed in the aircraft. I work on these drawings using Creo which is a 3D modeling software. Most mechanical engineers learn some sort of CAD software as a part of their undergraduate curriculum. Don’t worry if your employer utilizes a different software from the one you learned in school. Many jobs will either provide or send you to training, or give you the time to learn how to use it on the job.

This is a T-38. Astronauts train in these jets to learn how to react quickly in an environment where your decisions could have dire consequences. These are the same jets they trained in for the Apollo missions!

This is just a snapshot of a typical day at work for me. I love that I have the freedom to work on different tasks within a day so that I am never bored or stuck doing one thing. I thoroughly enjoy the hands-on nature of my work and the fact that I am surrounded by aircraft on a daily basis. This is just one example of the many exciting career paths available to engineers today. Keep checking back to connect and learn more about me as I update the site with more stories,  resources, and support to help you confidently thrive in the world of STEM.

Ad Astra and Godspeed,


Education, Engineering

Is Grad School “Worth It”?

I often get asked if you need a Master’s degree to XYZ (i.e. become an astronaut, work for NASA, be a respected, successful engineer, you name it). My answer is generally no, you do not NEED it but I always follow it with an important caveat. I think getting an advanced degree can be incredibly beneficial for several reasons. Here are my top four:

  1.  It’s an investment. Grad school was an incredible investment I made in myself. There was not a single day that passed during those two years where I didn’t question my decision because the process was extremely challenging. When I start to feel discouraged I remind myself that the things most worth having in life seldom come easy. Life’s biggest struggles often produce the best results-stick with it!
  2. You’ll grow your self-confidence. Although I learned many important lessons throughout grad school, most importantly I would argue, is that I learned an invaluable lesson in self-confidence both as a woman and an engineer. Yes there were days where I experienced imposter syndrome (more on that in a separate blog post), but the amount of pride I felt in knowing that I succeeded through the struggle is one of my life’s proudest moments. I emerged with the knowledge that I had learned to think critically and developed an ability to solve problems independently.
  3. It allows you to focus your interests. Although I had taken a couple of aerospace classes over the course of my undergraduate education, I chose to focus my efforts on the general field of mechanical engineering for my bachelor’s degree. I had my sights set on a career in aviation/space from the beginning but kept in mind that my interests may shift down the road. Grad school gave me the opportunity to finally narrow in on the aerospace field in a more specialized way with the security that I could market myself to businesses in aviation, oil and gas, automotive, robotics, healthcare, etc if my interests or career opportunities shifted.
  4. It sets you apart from your peers. According to the 2015 U.S. Census*, only 12% of the population over the age of 25 holds an advanced degree. Due to the pretty widely understood rigor of graduate school, you’ll likely emerge an “expert” in at least one specialized area and can use that to better market yourself to an employer. Not to mention that individuals with an advanced degree can often negotiate a higher starting salary and will earn more in their lifetime.

Have questions about graduate school? Leave me a message and I’ll do my best to answer it!



Seattle, WA

I went TDY (“temporary duty”-government speak for work travel) to Seattle last September for 2 weeks to take Boeing’s Structural Repair for Engineers course (more on that later) and quickly fell in love with this hipster Pacific Northwest city. I was told I visited during the least rainy part of the year (which generally runs from about May-September) and the crisp fall weather was widely welcomed by this North Dakotan native turned Houstonian. The trees were just beginning to change to fiery shades of orange, yellow, and red and if you’re a runner like me, the temperatures were just right for some incredibly scenic outdoor runs along the water.

I established one of my best travel tips on this trip. Based on recommendations and my own research, as well as discoveries I make during the trip, I update and maintain a Yelp Collection for each city I visit. This way I have a pre-curated list of highly rated suggestions for sightseeing, food and drink and, of course, a list of must-dos and must-do agains if I get the chance to venture back. I’m sharing my favorite things I saw, did, and perhaps most importantly, ate, during this trip.

  1. Eat & Drink
    • Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (1124 Pike St). An incredibly beautiful building inside and out, this is a Starbucks lover’s dream. Complete with a large collection of gift items, a mixology bar, roasting area which you can view through a window in the restrooms (WHAAAT?!), and Italian bakery, it is easy to see why I visited not once, but twice. I highly recommend heading to the Experience Bar for a Cold Brew Malt (!!) and the Whiskey Barrel-Aged Cold Brew!
    • TNT Taqueria (2114 N 45th St). This place looks like a hole in the wall but don’t be fooled as we all know looks can be deceiving. I topped off my meal of some of the best tacos I’ve ever eaten (besides the street tacos consumed on a trip to Mexico City) with a couple hot, made-to-order churros. Incredibly delicious and inexpensive, my Cuban co-worker proclaimed these to be some of the best tacos he’s ever eaten.
    • Bar Ciudad (1210 S Bailey St). I didn’t eat here but came for happy hour to celebrate the end of our 6 hour exam to finish out the 2 weeks of class. I sat in the courtyard and enjoyed a couple of delicious spiked slushies as, much to my delight, jumbo jets flew directly overhead into nearby Boeing Field.
    • Fran’s Chocolates (5900 Airport Way S, multiple locations). Arguably the best salted caramel chocolates I’ve ever tasted. A friendly salesperson greets you at the door with a tray of their signature caramels. These make a great gift and their goodies come wrapped up in beautiful packaging complete with a satin bow.
    • Barnacle (4743 Ballard Ave NW) and Percy’s & Co. (5233 Ballard Ave NW). Although a bit north of town, I met up with a couple friends for delicious craft cocktails in Ballard. Barnacle is an Italian aperitivo bar with a playful, upscale nautical vibe. At Percy’s I opted for the “Honey Bee” which includes rosemary infused gin and lavender.
    • Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream (4822 Rainier Ave S, multiple locations). Although they have some more traditional ice cream flavors, Molly Moon’s also serves up a wide variety of unique and seasonal flavors for the more adventurous like Rose Milk Tea and delicious homemade waffle cones that make the whole place smell incredible.
  2. See & Do
    • Chihuly Garden & Glass (305 Harrison St) and the Space Needle (400 Broad St). Home to a large collection of Dale Chihuly’s incredible blown glass art, this was definitely a highlight of the trip. I suggest buying a combined ticket for Chihuly and the Space Needle which is right next door and will allow you to see both at a discount. I visited Chihuly first because it closes earlier and then ventured to the Space Needle in time for incredible views of Seattle as day turned into night.
    • Pike Place Market (85 Pike St). Whatever you do, do not expect to drive directly into Pike Place Market as you will waste an asinine amount of time trying to maneuver through crowds of people (luckily I did not fall victim to this). The expansive, iconic (est. 1907) market where you can see flying fish, get incredibly gorgeous bouquets of fresh flowers for $5-$10, and enjoy a wide variety of delicious food. This is also home to the original Starbucks Coffee.
    • Gas Works Park (2101 N Northlake Way). Although quite windy the day I visited, this park offers a big hill overlooking Lake Union with great views of Seattle and the Space Needle. The perfect place for a picnic or to relive your childhood with a belly-laugh inducing roll down the hill.
    • The Museum of Flight (9404 E Marginal Way S). Located at the southern end of Boeing Field, this is the largest privately-owned air and space museum in the world. I spent over 5 hours in this museum which is home to more than 175 aircraft and spacecraft and definitely didn’t get to see everything. A must-see for aviation/space enthusiasts!
    • Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park (1201 Lake Washington Blvd N, Renton). Because I stayed in the Renton area, this park along Lake Washington was the perfect place to enjoy the sunshine after work with a run. I was able to run 10 miles on a trail that led me past the Seahawk’s training facility, Renton Municipal Airport, a Boeing facility, and the Cedar River. I also caught a glimpse of Mt. Rainier on a clear evening as the sun was setting.
  3. On My Bucket List for Next Time
    • Hiking: Because I was in class during the week, I only had one weekend free to hike. It rained a bit too much and was going to be incredibly muddy (and I don’t own hiking shoes) so I passed on that in favor of exploring Pike Place Market. Hiking to see views of Mt. Rainier is definitely on the top of my Seattle bucket list for next time.
    • Donuts: General Porpoise Donuts, Top Pot Doughnuts
    • Pike Place: The Pink Door, Piroshky Piroshky, Biscuit Bitch, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

So, it probably seems like I packed a lot in considering I was supposed to be working, right? The truth is that I wanted to make the most of my 2 weeks in Seattle so I did do a lot in the evenings and over the weekend. However, the absolute highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the reason I was there in the first place. I spent about 8 hours a day in class learning and practicing how to perform structural repairs to aircraft. This was the first in a three-part course aimed at teaching engineers everything about the basics of aircraft repair from fastener (bolt and rivet) allowables and the best materials to use depending on which part of the aircraft you’re dealing with, to skin friction drag and fastener spacing requirements. At the end of the first week they even bused us to Everett, WA (home to Boeing’s massive aircraft production facility outside Seattle) where we got to see every stage of the aircraft assembly process from the mighty 747 to the innovative 787 Dreamliner. The following two courses focus on more advanced topics and I hope to take those in the future.

If you’ve ever been to Seattle or the Pacific Northwest or are a Seattle native yourself, what is your one must-see place to visit?


Every Great Adventure Begins with a Single Step

Welcome to my very first blog post! I’m so excited to get to know each other better as I share my story with you. As you can imagine, there’s a fairly large amount of vulnerability associated with starting a blog and sharing some of my most intimate thoughts and life highlights with you. Please bear with me as I newly navigate the blogging world!

I’d like to start with a little background on where my adventure begins, because I think the beginning is key to understanding who we are. I was born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota where I learned the values of working hard (I’ve had a job since I was 14, hellllo Krispy Kreme Doughnuts!) and being kind to everyone you meet (“North Dakota nice” is a real thing). I am incredibly proud of my hometown, however, I didn’t always feel that way. Growing up I always had a nagging sense that there was more for me somewhere else. I daydreamed of a future living in Hollywood as some glamourous movie star or spending my days in Houston training in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (aka, the NBL-this is the giant pool astronauts train in for spacewalks) as a NASA astronaut. While these don’t exactly seem like unique aspirations for an 8 year old, I was lucky because I grew up with parents who believed in my dreams as much as I did.

My sixth grade time capsule for the year 2010 along with a photo of me dressed as my biggest role model at the time, Sally Ride.

One summer night as a second grader, I stood in the driveway with my dad staring up at the night sky. I remember feeling awestruck, recognizing how small I was in relation to the rest of the universe. I was one human being living my very simple life as the rest of the universe ticked along. I wanted to understand how it all fit together. From that very moment I decided that I wanted a front row seat on mankind’s journey to discovery and I set my sights on a career at NASA. It became no secret throughout middle and high school that I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up and my zealous response to the question was always met with skepticism. How could a girl from North Dakota achieve something so unimaginable? I started to believe the doubters, but I didn’t give up.

DigiGirlz Camp at Microsoft Fargo, ~2007 (I’m on the right)

While growing up I never really had much exposure to engineering specific classes or career fields. (I did however attend DigiGirlz at the Microsoft campus in my hometown where my dad was a Software Engineer for many years. More info about the camp which is still being held in many cities all over the world, here.) So, how did I become a NASA engineer? As I mentioned, my parents always encouraged me to pursue what I was passionate about but I didn’t have any idea what it took to work at NASA.
I knew that becoming an astronaut might be a long-shot but I didn’t have any reservations about my ability to score what I believed to be the next best gig-a job as a NASA Mission Control Specialist (I must have been a very optimistic teenager!). As the time neared to apply to college, I began to investigate what it was Mission Control Specialists at NASA actually held degrees in. Most of the information I found pointed to an engineering degree. I wondered what engineers even did, but applied to a variety of engineering programs all over the country nonetheless.

Graduation Day at the Rochester Institute of Technology, May 2015

I had never lived anywhere but my relatively small hometown in North Dakota and although I was slightly terrified about the prospect of leaving behind everyone and everything I knew, I also saw an opportunity to push myself far beyond my comfort zone. I knew that moving far away would present many challenges but in order to grow as an individual and a student it was what I needed to do to make my dreams reality. I decided on the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) having never been to the East Coast. RIT has a highly renowned co-op program which allowed me to gain exposure and experience to the engineering field while developing my sense of self and confidence as a female engineer. It was here, in my second year that I interviewed for a co-op position with NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Throughout college, I was incredibly fortunate to also intern twice with GE Aviation, including a tour at their Flight Test Operation in the California desert and a summer as a congressional intern with the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space and Technology. I have always believed in the importance of diversifying your experiences. Not only will this allow you the chance to discover what you truly love to do and make you more well-rounded personally and professionally, I believe the process of discovering what you do not want to do is of equal value. My response when asked how I scored my dream job working for NASA so early on? I always had the end goal in sight and I never stopped long to listen to negativity from those who didn’t believe in me as strongly as I believed in myself. I knew I was in control of my destiny and I refused to listen to those who thought that somehow I would allow their beliefs about me to become my truth.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

“The Man in the Arena”, Theodore Roosevelt

I earned a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY) in 2015. When it came time to decide if I would begin my career with NASA or continue on with an advanced degree, I really struggled with what the “right” decision was. I knew that I wanted to pursue either a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and that it would be incredibly difficult to go back to school once I began working and earning a stable income. However, I couldn’t help but worry that if I turned down a job offer from NASA that I would forever miss my shot at what I had worked so hard for. Once again I was asking myself to face my fears and break out of my comfort zone. I couldn’t deny my gut instinct that kept nagging at me to continue on with school. Luckily, the group I wanted to continue working with at NASA was supportive of this personal goal and agreed to take me on as a graduate co-op student so that I knew there would likely be a place for me in the group once I returned from grad school. This experience taught me, in particular, to ask for the things you want. The answer will be “no” 100% of the times you are too afraid to ask the question.

Graduation Day at Georgia Tech, May 2018

I went on to earn a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering specializing in structures from Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA). The experience tested me in many ways, but was the single best investment I have ever made in myself (more info on graduate school in an upcoming blog post). Through all this I have grown into a person who believes in the ability to make the unimaginable a reality and I believe you can too. Life is about taking chances and understanding that every great adventure begins with a single step. Ad astra and Godspeed on wherever your journey takes you.

Photo Credit: Kyle Sudu Photography