Nicole Mann: A day in the life of a NASA astronaut

Nicole Victoria Aunapu Mann is a NASA astronaut and a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps.

"I have one of the best jobs in the world. I didn’t always realize it was a possibility. I thought, 'who are these people who are astronauts.' I was an active duty marine in Iraq where I flew F-18s when I met Colonel Bresnik who had recently been selected to be an astronaut and that’s when I realized I could do that."

This is a day in the life of a NASA astronaut on the mission to Mars.

What currently keeps you busy? It’s a constant balance between work and home life – a big struggle every working mom has to balance family.

For work, there is no typical week. Sometimes I am in the neutral buoyancy lab doing spacewalk training which is an all-day event. Other times it is Russian class in the morning followed by operating cameras on the space station in the afternoon or Flying a T-38; or, I might be on the Capcom capsule communicator from Mission Control talking to astronauts in space.

When asked about leaving her family to go to Mars, she said, “Follow your dreams. Sacrifices are made and the greater good benefits all of humankind.”

Today I woke up at 5:45am.

The first thing I did was stretch because I’m getting old.

My morning ritual includes toast with peanut butter and banana on top. Every morning I wake up my son, then wash face, brush teeth, and comb hair.

I started working at 7:45am.

My biggest challenge was managing my time. There is always a list of things to do and I struggle with identifying the highest priority item and how much time I have to knock out each thing on the list. Every day I am in different locations around the space station or lab. I have blocks of time to knock out each item on my to-do list and then identify the highest priority item and get it done without getting involved in the weeds on something. I don’t have time for that.

I celebrated the rodeo with friends – it’s in Houston every March. We had 21 people at my house – 11 adults and 10 kids came out from L.A. including my sister and friends. I was a little stressed about having so many people but it was great. It was the village mindset – everyone cooked, cleaned, and took care of the kids. It didn’t matter whose kids it was, everyone just helped out.

What I love most about my work is talking to children and people and hopefully inspiring them.

My favorite part of the day is when I get home from work and get to see my family.

Least favorite… don’t know that I have one.

I am so glad that I get to be a member of the NASA team and have the potential to go to space soon.

I wish I had more time. I would finish that to-do list and would slow down a little bit. I get to be with my son 45 minutes in the morning and three hours at night. (He gets home at 5 pm and then it’s dinner, bath, and bed time at 8 pm.) I like to leave that time uninterrupted. I dedicate most of the weekend with him, exposing him to new things. He’s been to Mission Control and the neutral buoyancy lab so he’s seen me at work.

Something that surprised me was how many cool different things I would learn at NASA and how varied my days are – mechanics, space station ops, medical trainings, how to do all the science.

Did you have a plan for your day? Did it go as planned? I always have a plan. We have schedulers who schedule every half hour and its on my phone. More often than not I just need to be where I need to be – gym time is scheduled, eating is scheduled. My husband and I talk a lot during the day so we get more done when we’re together because our efforts are coordinated.

I want to recognize my parents for helping me with learning how to learn, how to live, how to go to school and make decisions so I could realize that this is the path I want to take and have the motivation and vision to execute on that.

How do you commute? I drive.

For lunch… I bring my lunch from home and eat it at my desk or wherever I have to be.

A personal activity I do just for myself is… I really like to cook a little bit of everything, especially dinners. Barefoot Contessa is my favorite. As you can probably guess, I am not a freeform cooker, I follow the recipe. It is relaxing and fun to try new things.

I most enjoy spending time with my family.

For dinner we usually cook. The slow cooker saves my life.  Or, my husband will grill meat and I cook the sides and we make extra so I can take it for lunch the next day.

My favorite technology that I used today is Apple TV (this is not an endorsement).

I am inspired by everybody around me at NASA. There are eight of us in the class of 2013. The first two years we did all of our training together so our families became really close. Now we get to spend time together on the weekends.

Did you meditate? Did you exercise? I think a lot and exercise quite a bit. We have a weight training protocol at NASA and I like running and swimming.

One strategy I use to make my time more effective is… make my to-do list and prioritize it; stop thinking about it and start doing it.

I am passionate about so many things – life.

Something I wanted to get done but didn’t get to do was… nothing – I still plan on doing it; I’ve still got time.

A dream I am currently focused on fulfilling is going to space. I am living my dream.

I can’t live without the support of my husband.

Today I felt super excited. I’ve been traveling* a lot lately and this is one of my first days back that is a normal day and then I get to hang out with my family for Easter.

*Most recently she was in Mississippi for public appearances including speaking with senators and congressman; a visit to the children’s hospital where they shared space ice cream; outreach at the university; and an opportunity to build general public awareness and get younger kids excited about STEM.

I go to sleep at 9:45 pm.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to… sleeping. Tonight I am on Capcom from midnight to 8 am. I look forward to sleeping after I get off that shift.

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Learn more about Nicole Mann and the Mission to Mars:
Watch an Astronaut Candidate at a Glance.
Follow Nicole on Twitter.
Read her full bio online at http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/mann-na.pdf

In 2013, Nicole Mann was one of eight candidates selected from more than 6,300 applicants to train as a potential astronaut for NASA. NASA has said that Mann could be one of the first astronauts sent on a mission to an asteroid, or to Mars.

Mann graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy before earning a degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford University. She completed U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and went on to serve in Iraq. Before being accepted to NASA's astronaut training program, she was stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland as an F/A-18 fighter jet pilot.

She has been awarded two Air Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and various unit commendations. She is a Trident Scholar, Academic All-American (soccer), Distinguished Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Honor Graduate, U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Class 135 and Leroy Grumman “Best Paper” Award, East Coast Society of Experimental Test Pilots Symposium.

She said that part of why she chose the Naval Academy was because of their great soccer program for women.

She has accumulated more than 1,500 flight hours in 21 types of aircraft, 200 carrier arrestments and 47 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.