Kayla Barron missed the phone call giving her the good news that she had been selected to join NASA’s astronaut candidate class of 2017.
She had been told that NASA would call May 25 to tell her whether she had made the final cut among 18,300 applicants for the 12 positions as an astronaut candidate.
Barron, a Navy lieutenant who considers Richland her hometown, was at work at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where she’s the flag aide to the academy’s superintendent. It was the busy graduation and commissioning week.
She looked down at her phone at 12:04 p.m. and saw a missed call from the Johnson Space Center in Houston at 12:03 p.m.
“I had a very tense hour waiting for them to call me back,” she said.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced Wednesday that Barron, 29, a 2006 graduate of Richland High School, was picked for two years of astronaut candidate training.
NASA coordinated media interviews Thursday, including a telephone interview from Houston with the Herald.
Barron is looking forward to the aviation training she will receive in the T-38 jet trainer. The jets make pilots and mission specialists think quickly in changing situations, which is critical practice for the rigors of space flight, according to NASA.
(Learning Russian) is a little intimidating.
Kayla Barron, astronaut candidate
She’s also excited about space walk training underwater at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, which simulates conditions close to the weightlessness of space.
The training that makes her a little nervous?
“I’m not a big linguist,” she said. “That part is a little intimidating.”
NASA has a strong relationship with the Russian space program, including depending on the Russian spacecraft Soyuz to carry American astronauts to the International Space Station.
After Barron finishes training, she expects to be assigned to contribute to a team supporting astronauts.
She became interested in working for NASA as she worked at the Naval Academy, meeting graduates who served in the astronaut office, she said.
During the application process, she traveled to the Johnson Space Center twice and met engineers, scientists and technicians who support astronauts in space, she said.
It likely will be several years before she can expect to be assigned to a mission, she said.
She’s been told it could be on the Soyuz or on rockets and space capsules under development. NASA is partnering with Boeing and SpaceX to take astronauts into space on rockets they are building. NASA also is developing the Orion spacecraft.
Everyone is excited to push the envelope of what NASA has done before and move on deeper into the solar system.
Kayla Barron, astronaut candidate
Vice President Mike Pence mentioned the possibility of travel to Mars at the ceremony Wednesday introducing the new astronaut candidates in Houston.
“It is absolutely appealing to everyone down here at the Johnson Space Center,” Barron said. “It appeals to our sense of adventure and everyone is excited to push the envelope of what NASA has done before and move on deeper into the solar system.”
Barron will continue serving as a naval officer during her NASA career. She graduated from the academy with a systems engineering degree and also has a nuclear engineering masters. She served on the USS Maine submarine as the first class of women commissioned to be a submarine officer.
She credits the support she received growing up in Richland with helping her launch her career, including her teammates, coaches and teachers at Richland High.
The daughter of Scott and Lauri Sax, she ran cross country and track and played basketball for three years.
She gave a specific shout out to her Richland High chemistry teacher, Reed Spencer.
His advanced placement chemistry class was tough. “But he had a way of making concepts understandable and teaching us no matter how complicated a subject was, there was a way to understand it,” Barron said.
Spencer helped inspire her to study engineering, building on her passion for math and science.
“I wouldn’t be here without the amazing community who taught me to chase my dream and be confident and go out there and do the best that I could,” Barron said.