Fly me to the moon – UNC alum is going into space

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-9 Stephanie Wilson, Aleksandr Gorbunov, Nick Hague, and Zena Cardman. Photo courtesy of NASA.

COMMUNITY

By Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor 

Astronaut Zena Cardman has not gone to the moon yet, but she is a UNC alum on her way into space in late summer 2024.

Cardman was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2017 as part of the “Turtles” Astronaut Class  This will be her first spaceflight. The Williamsburg, Virginia, native holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a master’s in Marine Sciences from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to a NASA press release.

As part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-9 mission, Cardman and three other crew members are preparing to launch to the International Space Station and conduct a wide-ranging set of operational and research activities. 

NASA astronauts Zena Cardman, Pilot Nick Hague, Mission Specialist Stephanie Wilson, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mission Specialist Aleksandr Gorbunov will join Expedition 71 and 72 crew members and conduct a wide-ranging set of operational and research activities no earlier than August. They will arrive at the space station for a short-duration handover with NASA’s SpaceX Crew-8 mission. They will be launching on the Dragon Spacecraft.

“Honored to fly with @AstroHague, @Astro_Stephanie, and Александр Горбунов – an amazing crew who epitomize competence, kindness, and trust. Thank you to the team for getting us ready. Ad Astra!” said Cardman on her social media post.

Cardman’s research has focused on geobiology and geochemical cycling in subsurface environments, from caves to deep-sea sediments, according to NASA information. Cardman reported for duty in August 2017 and completed two years of training as an Astronaut Candidate.  Before her career as an Astronaut, she worked with NASA-supported field tests, including Pavilion Lake and BASALT.

At the University of North Carolina, Cardman studied microbial systems in hydrocarbon seeps, hydrothermal vents, and the Arctic.  During that time, she also worked with the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research group in Antarctica, analyzing ecosystem changes as part of a multi-decadal study.  Cardman has experience with NASA-supported research in British Columbia, the Canadian high Arctic, Idaho, and Hawaii, helping to develop operational architectures for science-driven planetary EVA.  She briefly worked for the Sea Education Association, sailing as an Assistant Engineer.

The Mission

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft photo courtesy of NASA.

SpaceX’s ninth crew rotation mission is to the International Space Station for NASA. This mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

NASA initiated the Commercial Crew Program to provide transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through a partnership with American private industry.

NASA has officially certified SpaceX’s crew system and started regular missions to the space station with astronauts. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launches on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Dragon spacecraft has had 44 total launches with 39 visits to the International Space Station and 23 total reflights.  Specifics on the spacecraft are available here.


Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 

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