Clovis woman shares her journey to become a NASA astronaut candidate

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FRESNO, Calif. ( — Clovis native Jessica Wittner remembers spending her younger years as a Buchanan High School student using her love of science to create model rockets with her family.

On Monday, she came one step closer to the real thing, becoming one of ten candidates chosen out of a pool of more than 12,000 applicants to represent the United States and to work for humanity’s benefit in space.

Wittner was born in Fresno, but considers Clovis to be her hometown. A graduate of Buchanan High School, Wittner joined the US Navy in 2001. She served on active duty as a US naval aviator and as a test pilot.

Wittner says when she found out she was chosen as a candidate, the news sent her over the moon.

“I think initially when you get the phone call, it’s instantly shocking, I had to pinch myself a couple of times,” says Wittner.

Wittner hopes to inspire more young women to pursue a career in the STEM field. According to Pew Research, women make up only 28% of the workforce in any STEM-related career, and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college.

“These NASA missions require everyone to be all hands on deck, which includes everyone both male and female. In the interview process, they made sure to instill in us that there are different mission assignments, but for the most part you are an astronaut through and through and have to be ready to fill any role.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson introduced the members of the 2021 astronaut class, the first new class in four years, during a Monday, December 6 event at Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

According to NASA’s website, the candidates will return to Houston in January 2022 to kickstart two years of training. The training is split up into five categories: operating and maintaining the International Space Station’s mechanics, training for spacewalks, developing complex robotic skills, safely operating a T-38 training jet, and Russian language skills.

After training ends in two years, the candidates could be assigned to various missions that involve performing mechanical operations aboard the space station, launching spacecraft from American soil and deep-space missions to the moon.

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