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Eastern Washington natives Anne McClain, Kayla Barron among astronaut team for moon mission

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 9, 2020

Eastern Washington will have not one, but two potential candidates in the running to be the first woman to walk on the moon.

Anne McClain, of Spokane, and Kayla Barron, of Richland, were named Wednesday to the team of 18 astronauts selected for the Artemis mission at a NASA event at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Artemis seeks to return humans to the moon’s surface in 2024, which would be the first crewed lunar mission since December 1972.

McClain has long been rumored among the top picks to take part in the next lunar mission, after becoming a NASA astronaut in 2013. The Gonzaga Prep and West Point graduate served as a flight engineer on two expeditions at the International Space Station, which ended in June 2019.

McClain had been scheduled to be part of the first all-female spacewalk in history, but a reported lack of equipment led to its cancelation. McClain’s planned partner in that spacewalk, Christina Koch, was also named a member of the Artemis team.

“It is amazing to think that the next man and first woman on the Moon are among the names that we just read,” Vice President Mike Pence said at the announcement. “The Artemis team astronauts are the future of American space exploration – and that future is bright.”

McClain was present at the Kennedy center for the announcement and joked she was excited to get the chance to go to the moon because it might give her a “fighting chance” to rundown fellow female astronaut Jessica Watkins, who is much speedier on the rugby pitch and part of a national championship squad with Stanford University. McClain earned her astronaut callsign, “Annimal,” while playing rugby for the U.S. national team.

She also addressed the potential glass-ceiling-shattering achievement of being the first woman on the moon.

“Right now what I know is, I’m going to walk on the moon. Or one of my friends is going to walk on the moon,” McClain said. “And both of those scenarios are beyond my wildest dreams when I was a kid.”

Prior to McClain’s work at NASA, she served in the U.S. Army, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel while logging more than 2,000 flight hours.

Barron completed her astronaut training in January after a career in the U.S. Navy as a submarine warfare officer. She began her astronaut training in 2017.

The Richland native appeared with fellow Artemis team member Kjell Lindgren during a virtual Q-and-A session broadcast by NASA later Wednesday from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Barron said she was excited by the possibilities of exploring the moon’s geology, a necessary step in establishing a sustainable base on the moon’s surface by 2029, another of Artemis’ goals.

“In Apollo, we saw a tiny fraction of the lunar surface,” Barron said, referring to the only other manned series of moon missions that ran from 1969 to 1972. “It’s kind of like if you got dropped off in the middle of a place you’ve never been before, and you had to walk around – anything you could reach just by walking is all you’d be able to learn about the planet Earth.”

Artemis, which will begin with robotic lunar missions next year, will allow for greater exploration of the surface of the satellite, Barron said.

Both she and Lindgren said they anticipated taking selfies from the surface with the Earth in the background, and Barron revealed that she has a special place in her heart for the sci-fi film “Armageddon,” the 1998 blockbuster featuring a crew of astronauts that must save the planet from a doomsday asteroid.

“My big sister, one of her favorite movies is ‘Armaggedon,’” Barron said, grinning. “We used to watch it all the time, so I think, in my quest to impress my big sister, and spend time with her, I’ve seen ‘Armageddon’ more than any other space movie.”

Flight assignments will be made later, and additional American and international astronauts may be named to the team. The astronaut team announced Wednesday includes nine men and nine women.

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