Christine Corbett Moran was in Antarctica when she got the news: NASA wanted to interview her, in person, for the next class of astronauts. Moran is a coder and theoretical astrophysicist, and she’d been holed up in the southernmost part of the world for 10 months, studying the echoes of the Big Bang. She was scheduled to leave the coldest continent in November anyway, so four days after NASA rang, on October 18, she booked the five flights necessary to get to Houston and sell her qualifications to space-agency officials.

Moran–who has worked in propulsion at SpaceX , co-led creation of the iOS version of the encrypted communication app Signal, and minored in philosophy–probably wouldn’t have been as attractive an astronaut candidate historically as she is today. But NASA’s missions have evolved. When the agency put out its latest application call, it specified that the lucky few might fly in Orion, a deep-space vessel meant to make the #journeytomars. And that kind of long, tight, potentially science-centric job lends itself to a different resume than astronaut calls past. Say, someone who knows science and software and can stay sane at the South Pole.

Moran isn’t publicly advocating for her special set of motivations or qualifications–NASA prefers to keep the details of its process in-house, and she prefers to oblige. But it’s pretty easy to see how her experience could fit NASA’s future vision of an astronaut. Things that are the same in Antarctica and on a long-distance mission to Mars: constant darkness, limited mobility, and the fact that if you take your hands out of your gloves, you could lose them.

And Moran has proven herself hardy in that environment. “Most of the things that I like doing happen indoors,” she says. She loves five-hour programming binges; she reads; she learns to play instruments and speak languages; she writes science fiction. She knows how to keep herself busy. Maybe busy enough to go to Mars.


From its inception, NASA has been concerned with astronauts’ ability to fly flying objects. Its first astronauts, the Mercury Seven, were military test pilots. They had to be, according to the application call. And while no one explicitly banned non-white people, the demographic from which NASA drew candidates didn’t really contain people of color. The agency selected its first black astronaut, Ed Dwight, in 1961, but he never went to space.

NASA backed away from the man-in-uniform requirement in the ’60s, anticipating the lunar missions. They wanted to include scientists who could decipher Moon rocks, and then train them in piloting. This was a radical departure, in NASA’s opinion. But the first six scientist-astronauts nonetheless looked a lot like the jet-handling ones of yore: white, dudely.