In preschool, Anne McClain wrote and illustrated a book depicting a family of four going to a store, buying rockets and suits, and flying up into outer space.
Fast forward about 30 years, one Army career and 18 months of suspense, McClain is about to make her 4-year-old self’s dreams come true.
The 34-year-old Gonzaga Prep graduate has been chosen as one of NASA’s eight newest astronaut trainees. The eight names were released publicly Monday, although the candidates learned their fate June 6.
“I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t breathe, and then there were tears,” McClain said via phone from Washington, D.C., of the moment she learned she would become an astronaut.
She somehow pulled herself together enough to joke with the NASA representative who called her with the good news.
“I remember her asking if I was still interested in the position,” McClain said. “I told her I would have to check my schedule. Then I started laughing and said, ‘Of course.’ ”
The eight trainees were chosen from a pool of more than 6,100 applicants. They will be stationed across the globe and will prepare for missions that could include trips to Mars or distant asteroids, NASA said in its Monday announcement.
Joining McClain as new astronaut trainees are Josh A. Cassada, Ph.D., 39, a former naval aviator now working in high-tech; U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Victor J. Glover, 37, a fighter pilot; U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Tyler N. Hague, 37, test pilot; Christina M. Hammock, 34, a scientist and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration station chief in American Samoa; U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, test pilot; Jessica U. Meir, Ph.D., 35, assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School; and U.S. Army Maj. Andrew R. Morgan, 37, an emergency physician and flight surgeon.
The four women that make up half the recruiting class mark the highest percentage of women ever in one class.
McClain, an Army major, is a 1997 Gonzaga Prep graduate. She spent a year in the ROTC program at Gonzaga University before attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she studied mechanical engineering. She also has master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Bath and in international security from the University of Bristol, both in the United Kingdom.
Additionally, she’s a certified OH-58 helicopter pilot, spent 15 months in Iraq starting in 2006 and just last week graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
“It’s been just an amazing ride,” McClain said. She acknowledged that being an astronaut was her top goal. “I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else.”
She first applied to the program during the previous round of applications in 2009 but didn’t get an interview. She said NASA takes applications depending on the needs of the program and has only had five classes of trainees since 1998. Her class is the 21st in the nation’s 55-year space history.
The self-described science nerd said she is inspired by NASA’s missions and people.
“The folks at NASA really look at the world and try to envision how things can be better,” McClain said. “I really like that it’s on the cutting edge of technology.”
Her training begins Aug. 12. Until then, she plans to move to Houston from her current home outside D.C. and visit family in Spokane.
Her mother, Charlotte Lamp, is a former junior high science and math teacher. The Spokane resident said she sees her daughter as an example for other kids that they can do whatever they want as long as they work hard.
McClain is “somebody local that children can look at and say yes, ‘somebody from Spokane did this, and why can’t I,’ ” her mother said.
McClain isn’t the first Spokane kid to make the astronaut corps.
Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson, a Cheney High School graduate, was chosen by NASA in 1994 and logged nearly 600 hours in space as a mission and payload specialist. He was among the seven astronauts killed in the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. Several memorials have been built across Spokane commemorating Anderson’s contributions to the nation’s space program, including a statue in Riverfront Park that NASA has featured on its website.
McClain said she is excited and humbled to represent her hometown and the region. She’s already thinking about the fun she could have at local elementary school career days.
“I love getting back to Spokane and certainly love being involved in everything,” McClain said. “I would love to be able to give back, for sure.”