In first grade Jessica Meir made a drawing of herself standing on the moon. Turns out she underestimated her own ambition: Today, at 38, Meir could become the first human to touch down on an even farther destination: Mars. A next step for man? Yes, and a giant leap for womankind.
The mission itself is at least 15 years away—it will take that long to build and test every last piece of equipment. But it’s already the most hotly anticipated space-exploration effort ever. Governments around the world—in China, Europe, and Russia—have plans in the works to at least land robots on Mars, while in the U.S., private companies like SpaceX are partnering with NASA on a human mission and plotting their own commercial trips. And unlike the 1960s race to the moon, this time women are playing pivotal roles—building rockets, designing space suits, and controlling the remote rovers that are already sending momentous insights back from Mars.