It took only a week for anyone to notice that four women were in space simultaneously.

Not “in space” the way you or I might be, but working and living at the International Space Station. Even more interesting, three of the four were women of a certain age, having crossed the boundary of age 40 seemingly as effortlessly as they traversed the earth’s atmosphere. The three:  U.S. astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who turned 40 earlier this year; Stephanie Wilson, age 44; and Naoko Yamazaki, 40, of the Japan Space Agency.

Wilson and Yamazaki, who landed at the Kennedy Space Center California this morning along with the rest of the Discovery crew (see photo), arrived at the Space Station on April 5 along with35-year-old Dottie Metcalf-Lindenberger and oh, several male astronauts, including mission commander Major Alan Poindexter. They joined Caldwell Dyson, who had arrived earlier along with two Russian astronauts, and will be joined there this summer by 44-year-old Texan Shannon Miller.

Last week, then, was historic in many ways, including the first-ever convocation of midlife women in space. But midlife issues were probably the farthest thing from their minds: in eight days of working together, the astronauts conducted three “spacewalks” to help maintain the station and retrieve experiment samples left by Japanese astronauts, and readied the final transfer of materiel from the space station to Earth using a space module called “Leonardo.”

Early next month, WVFC will have the opportunity to ask Wilson and Yamazaki about their experiences in space, their already formidable careers, and what it’s like to be midlife women astronauts. And this fall we’ll ask Miller and Caldwell Dyson (left) about life on the Space Station, where Caldwell Dyson is set to become the second woman to walk in space. Meanwhile, though, in honor of today’s landing, we offer quick profiles of Caldwell Dyson, Wilson, and Yamazaki as cyber-applause for a mission successfully completed. Congratulations!

Tracy Caldwell Dyson. As she says in the above video, Caldwell Dyson has focused her career on a dual track: amassing an impressive record in biochemistry research while aiming to be an astronaut. After earning a Ph.D. at the University of California-Davis, she studied atmospheric chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, and presented her work at technical conferences and in scientific journals. In August, 1998, she reported for training at NASA, serving as primary crew support, spacecraft communicator, and in other on-the-ground positions. She first went into space herself in 2007, traveling to the station on the space mission STS-118, and returned there with the joint U.S-Russia Expedition 23 crew last month.

Stephanie Wilson. Veteran of three space flights, Wilson was selected by NASA after four years with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and two working on the Titan project with Martin Marietta. She joined the space mission STS-121 after nearly ten years in Mission Control, serving as the primary contact with astronauts in orbit and managing other operational aspects of the shuttle. In the mission that ended today, Wilson supported robotic arm operations for vehicle inspection, multi-purpose logistics module installation, and was responsible for the transfer of more than 15,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the station. “I thought, ‘Hey, it’d be neat to have a job where you sleep all day and stay up all night — as astronomers do — and travel around the world,’” she explained earlier this year. “That was the initial interest.”

Naoko Yamazaki has been with the Japan Space Agency (JAXA) since 1996. Since being certified as an astronaut in 2001, she has been training for the International Space Station while developing hardware for, and operating, the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). After initial flight engineer training in Russia, Yamazaki arrived at Johnson Space Center in Texas and joined the Astronaut Office Robotics Branch.

Look next month for WVFC’s interview with Wilson and Yamazaki, and check back this fall for conversations with Shannon Miller and Caldwell Dyson about their six-plus months in zero gravity.

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