Although it sounds like The Hunger Games in space, Germany’s “Die Astronautin” competition—which means “the female astronaut”—seeks to put the first German woman into space. In March 2016, 400 women entered the competition, and yesterday, aerospace recruitment agency HE Space announced it had selected its final six candidates. If the private mission succeeds in securing funding, one of these badass ladies will head up to the International Space Station (ISS) for 10 days in 2020.
By fostering such a large competition, HE hopes Die Astronautin will inspire more girls and women to become interested in spaceflight. “We have shown that Germany’s women have the skills to fly into space,” said Claudia Kessler, CEO of HE Space, in a press statement. “Now we have to prove that the people of Germany believe in the candidates.”
To qualify for Die Astronautin, women had to be German nationals with a degree in engineering or science, between ages 27-37, and in excellent physical condition. Each of the 400 initial candidates were subjected to physical and mental health screenings, narrowing the pool down to just 60 candidates. From there, the pool was reduced to just six.
Among the finalists is Insa Thiele-Eich, daughter of German astronaut Gerhard Thiele, who spent 11 days in space in 2000 on a NASA Space Shuttle Endeavor mission. In an interview with CollectSPACE, the 33-year-old meteorologist said she wasn’t trying to follow in her dad’s footsteps—in fact, when she asked for advice on the competition, he just told her to “stay calm and have fun.”
Like Thiele-Eich, four of the other finalists—Nicola Baumann, Suzanna Randall, Magdalena Pree, and Susanne Peters—have professional experience with aerospace technology. Only one finalist, Lisa Marie Haas, does not, although she is a development engineer on electronic devices. If selected, the mom of two plans to create a program to get kids excited about spaceflight.
In the next phase of competition, two women will ultimately be selected to train for a mission to the ISS in 2020. However, only one will travel to the ISS, and only if the venture raises the $30 million it needs to move forward. To that end, HE Space is launching a crowdfunding campaign and seeking corporate sponsorships.
Regardless of who gets picked, the significance of this competition cannot be overstated: Obviously, it will be historic that Germany will finally put a woman into space, since all 11 of its astronauts have been men. But this will also provide scientists an opportunity for scientists to gather information on the physical impacts of spaceflight on women’s bodies, a subject we still know very little about.
In 2014, NASA released its most comprehensive report on how men and women are affected by space—but while 477 male astronauts were studied, just 57 women were analyzed. Since this sample size was so small, the report’s official recommendation was to “select more female astronauts for spaceflight missions.” Yeah, no shit.
In the 10 days Germany’s woman astronaut spends in space, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) will examine how microgravity affects her body, specifically her hormonal balance. According to Wired Germany, this information could be useful for eventual missions to Mars.
No matter which two candidates “win” Die Astronautin, this is definitely one giant leap for womankind. Space needs more girl power, anyway.
Correction: this article previously stated “die astronautin” translates to “the astronaut”—it translates to “the female astronaut.”