Local

Richland woman picked to become NASA astronaut candidate

Meet America’s New Astronauts

NASA asked the applicants a lot of questions before picking a new class of astronaut candidates, but they didn’t cover every topic. What is their favorite planet, and what will they take with them to Mars? Have a look at the newest astronauts answ
Up Next
NASA asked the applicants a lot of questions before picking a new class of astronaut candidates, but they didn’t cover every topic. What is their favorite planet, and what will they take with them to Mars? Have a look at the newest astronauts answ

A Richland High School graduate has been selected by NASA from among 18,300 applicants for the agency’s 2017 class of astronaut candidates.

Kayla Barron, who considers Richland her hometown, will report in August to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to begin two years of training.

She could be assigned to any of a variety of missions, including performing research on the International Space Station, launching from American soil on spacecraft built by commercial companies, or departing for deep space missions on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft.

Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke at the announcement in Houston, said the 12 candidates could return America to the moon or be among the first to travel to Mars. They will join just 338 people who have held the title of American astronaut, he said.

“She has never picked the easiest next job,” said Barron’s father, Scott Sax of Richland.

After graduating from high school in 2006, Barron, 29, attended the Naval Academy — not an easy lift for anyone, including a woman, Sax said.

She was commissioned as a Navy officer in 2010 and became a member of the first class of women commissioned to be a submarine officer.

She completed three deterrent patrols while serving aboard the Ohio-class submarine USS Maine. Her current assignment is flag aide to the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Astronaut seems a fitting next career for her, her father said.

Growing up she was a fan of science fiction, was interested in space and focused on science and technology.

She likes the solid rules of science, but at her core is a pioneer who wants to explore and learn, Sax said.

Becoming an astronaut is “a perfect balance between science and pioneering,” he said.

In a video released by NASA, Barron said she was “excited and maybe a little bit nervous.”

“I think it is amazing how many people from different backgrounds and different types of experience come to NASA because they are passionate about the mission,” she said in another NASA video.

Those selected for the program come from amazing teams, she said, discussing her experience in submarines on stage Wednesday at the Johnson Space Center when the new astronaut candidates were announced.

I think she’s always tried to achieve the next challenge.

Scott Sax, father of NASA astronaut candidate Kayla Barron

“I was lucky enough to be part of the Navy team that operates in confined spaces with limited resources in the hostile environment of the ocean,” she said. “I think there are definitely a few parallels with what our astronauts are doing on the space stations and what we’ll need to do to learn how to be successful on long-duration deep space exploration missions.”

On submarines she lived in a confined environment that she could not leave to go outside, interacted with the same people every day and truly relied on the teamwork of the crew, her father said.

One other similarity may be the limited fresh food choices, as Barron mentioned when asked for a light-hearted NASA video about the space food she was looking forward to trying.

“When I was on my submarine I always missed fruit, so I am hoping there will be freeze-dried tomatoes,” she said.

Sax said he always challenged his three daughters not to compare themselves with others, but just with themselves.

“I think she’s always tried to achieve the next challenge,” he said.

Her mother, Lauri, is somewhat nervous, given some tragedies in the space program. But Barron also will have “opportunities ahead of her most of us can only dream about,” he said.

At least a bachelor’s degree in math, science or engineering was a requirement to apply to the astronaut candidate program.

Barron earned a masters degree in systems engineering from the Naval Academy, then earned a masters degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Cambridge.

For all the kids out there — dare to dream, dream about science, dream about the technology. Dare to be the best you.

Scott Sax, father of NASA astronaut candidate Kayla Barron

“I think from a Tri-Cities standpoint, the education she got in our community prepared her for the Naval Academy, which prepared her for the next step,” Sax said.

Her National Aeronautics and Space Administration bio says she likes hiking, backpacking, running and reading. She is married to Tom Barron of New York, N.Y., who also is pursuing a military career.

“Holy cow,” Sax said about the bios of the other successful candidates.

Her astronaut classmates have made multiple Antarctic expeditions, hold elite military positions, work as physicians and collaborated on the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, among other accomplishments.

Those picked for the new astronaut class represent the diversity of America and the career paths that can lead to a place in America’s astronaut corps, NASA said.

“For all the kids out there — dare to dream, dream about science, dream about the technology. Dare to be the best you,” he said.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

  Comments