Spokane native Anne McClain will be making history as part of NASA’s first all-female spacewalk at the International Space Station.
McClain and fellow astronaut Christina Koch will be conducting the March 29 spacewalk as part of Expedition 59, which is expected to take seven hours. Canadian Space Agency flight controller Kristen Facciol will be supporting McClain and Koch on the console at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The spacewalk will be the second of three planned spacewalks during Expedition 59 to upgrade batteries on the International Space Station, which were delivered on the Japanese HII-Transfer Vehicle last summer, according to NASA.
It will mark the second spacewalk for McClain, who is also conducting a March 22 spacewalk with astronaut Nick Hague.
Koch is expected to join the crew March 14 for Expeditions 59 and 60 with Hague and Alexey Ovchinin, of Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency. Their arrival will return the station to “a full complement of six crew members,” NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said.
Spacewalks allow astronauts to work on the outside of the spacecraft while in space, conduct science experiments and test equipment. They can last anywhere from five to eight hours, according to NASA.
McClain, Koch and Hague were selected as members of NASA’s 21st astronaut class in 2013 from more than 6,100 applicants – the second-largest number of applicants NASA has ever received. The astronauts were instructed on scientific and technical briefings, International Space Station systems, spacewalks, robotics, physiological and T-38 flight training as well as water and wilderness training, according to NASA.
McClain, who is serving as a flight engineer for Expeditions 58 and 59, embarked on the six-month mission in December with crewmates David Saint-Jacques, of the Canadian Space Agency, and Oleg Kononenko, of Roscosmos.
During their mission, crew members are conducting more than 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations that aren’t possible on Earth. The findings will advance scientific knowledge of space as well as physical and biological sciences.
McClain graduated from Gonzaga Prep in 1997 and spent a year in the ROTC program at Gonzaga University before attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering.
Spokane resident Charlotte Lamp, McClain’s mother, said while she’s excited to see her daughter conduct the spacewalk, the focus shouldn’t be on the fact that it’s an all-female operation. They are all capable astronauts doing a tremendous job, she added, stating the number of science experiments taking place on the International Space Station is phenomenal.
McClain is taking part in a “Tissues on Chips” investigation that will allow researchers to explore the effects of reduced gravity on organs at the cellular and tissue levels.
“She’s having great fun educating people about what does go on up there, and I think her natural ability to teach is fantastic,” Lamp said.
Lamp said although McClain took physical science courses in school, she hadn’t taken a course in biology and is now learning about it through experiments at the International Space Station.
“I just think that’s exciting for me, as a biology teacher, to watch her find out about biology,” she said. “They have a whole lot of live science stuff going on up there. She basically had to learn biology by doing. She actually fell in love with it and is fascinated by it.”
“It goes to show we can be super high-powered, educated and dedicated to one kind of knowledge, and all the sudden something else opens up,” she added. “I don’t think we can shut ourselves off to exploring different avenues.”
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