For the first time in history, half of the the most recent class of NASA astronauts is female. If that wasn’t history-making enough, the women are also among those who might one day go to Mars.

Jessica Meir, Anne McClain, Christina Hammock Koch, and Nicole Aunapu Mann were selected for the 2013 group of new astronaut candidates. The positions—which NASA only recruits for every four or five years—are coveted and earning one requires top notch credentials (Meir is a Harvard Medical School professor, Koch worked as a South Pole explorer) and involves a year-and-a-half-long testing process. 

Glamour spoke with the four women (the interview is really worth reading in its entirety), and McClain had powerful things to say about finding out she had been admitted into the program:

“There were more than 6100 other applicants for our class of eight, and I'd made my peace with not getting in. I still remember getting the call that I'd been selected. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't talk. I started crying. I grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I can't recall ever not wanting to be an astronaut. I learned a lot [serving 15 months] in Iraq, flying attack helicopters at the front of the front lines. I joined the Army out of a deep sense of duty, but wanting to be an astronaut feels more like my destiny. With so much conflict in the world, space exploration can be a beacon of hope. No one cares about race or religion or nationality in space travel. We're all just part of Team Human.”

While their training has already begun, the actual mission to Mars won’t happen for at least another 15 years. After that, there’s another 35 million miles to go before reaching the Red Planet, which will take months. In total, the entire journey will take two to three years.

Meir, McClain, Koch, and Mann are in the running to fill just four spots on that historic journey. Of the opportunity, McClain told Glamour: “If we go to Mars, we'll be representing our entire species in a place we've never been before. To me it's the highest thing a human being can achieve.”


[h/t Marie Claire]