Astronaut Mom-of-2 Will Join the First All-Civilian Spacewalk While Helping Sick Kids Back Home (Exclusive)

On any given night at Anna Menon’s home in Houston, the 38-year-old mother and her son, James, 6, act out a ritual that combines Menon’s passion for space with her parental need to get her oldest child to sleep

Published Time: 25.05.2024 - 18:31:09 Modified Time: 25.05.2024 - 18:31:09

On any given night at Anna Menon’s home in Houston, the 38-year-old mother and her son, James, 6, act out a ritual that combines Menon’s passion for space with her parental need to get her oldest child to sleep.

“James came up with it,” she says.

“He asks me to rocket him into his bed, so I basically grab hold of his legs, and we do this countdown: 10, nine, eight ... Then we blast off as I push him up to his top bunk before I hug him goodnight.”

In the coming weeks James — along with his 3-year-old sister Grace and their dad, Anil, 47 — will watch Menon, a SpaceX mission specialist and medical officer, perform a grown-up version of their nightly pastime.

She will be blasting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with three other crew members — Jared Isaacman, Scott Poteet and Sarah Gillis — on the Polaris Dawn, a trailblazing private space mission that is set to fly deeper into the cosmos (870 miles, to be exact) than any other since the Gemini 11 took off in 1966.

For more on Menon and the Polaris Dawn mission, pick up this week's PEOPLE, on newsstands now, or subscribe.

“This is a stepping stone,” says Menon. “It’s helping to build technologies that will get humans closer to Mars and beyond.”

That’s not the only goal. Once Menon is floating among the stars, “I’m going to read a children’s book I wrote, Kisses from Space, to both my kids as well as some of the brave kids at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” she says of a live feed to raise funds for the Tennessee-based health care facility that focuses on childhood cancer and other pediatric diseases.

A previous SpaceX flight, the Inspiration4, pulled in more than $250 million, and Menon says they want to add to that: “We can make huge strides for our collective future but also address the problems here on Earth today.”

During the Polaris Dawn’s five-day journey, funded and commanded by Isaacman, a billionaire tech entrepreneur, the crew will attempt the first-ever all-civilian spacewalk outside the ship and carry out more than 40 experiments to help understand the effects of spaceflight and radiation on humans. < -


“Inspiration4 and now the Polaris program missions are very small steps in the direction of opening this last great frontier," says Isaacman, 41. "There is so much we stand to learn ... The answers are out there and so much more. We just need to get out there and explore. Who knows what we may find.”

Floating outside their Dragon capsule in the inky-black vastness of space is an experience that crew member and SpaceX engineer Gillis, 30, is especially looking forward to.

"Completing this spacewalk will test our training and teamwork, but we're ready," she says.

Menon and Poteet, a 50-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel-turned-SpaceX pilot, will remain inside the capsule during the space walk but all four will be exposed to the void.

"We hope to inspire future generations to dream bigger and reach for the stars," Gillis says.

The Polaris Dawn hasn’t finalized its launch date but is planning for no earlier than this summer. The expedition was pushed back several years as the team worked to fine-tune the dizzying array of technology they need, including suits for the crew to wear outside their capsule as it travels 17,500 mph in temperatures ranging from 250 degrees below zero to 250 degrees above. (They won’t feel the velocity in the same way as on Earth.)

Past astronauts have recounted a curious detail from their trips, insisting that space sometimes smells like gunpowder or burnt food. “I’ll let you know,” Menon says, “when we come back.”

The trip is the culmination of what she calls a “childhood dream” that started on a fourth-grade field trip to Houston’s NASA Johnson Space Center.

Menon later spent seven years at the famed agency, serving as a biomedical engineer in mission control before heading to SpaceX, where she was tapped to become an astronaut in 2022.

“I’m incredibly proud,” says her husband, Anil, a veteran NASA and SpaceX flight surgeon and astronaut. “It’s been unbelievable to be by her side, watching this journey.”

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