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Navy Lt. Kayla Barron completes astronaut training, sets her sights on the stars

Kayla Barron official portrait (NASA/Released

Richland, Va. native Kayla Barron can now be a little more specific about what she does for a living.

“I normally say that I work at NASA,” said Barron, 32, who was one of 11 NASA candidates for space missions who formally completed her training in Houston on Friday. “And a lot of people don’t ask a follow-up question. Then you get to keep your anonymity for a little bit longer.”

If asked now, the 2006 graduate of Richland High School can say she’s in line to be among the first humans to walk on the moon in nearly 40 years, and the first woman to ever do that. Barron’s graduation means she can be picked for missions in space, and NASA has announced its intention to return to Earth’s satellite in 2024 as part of preparations to continue to Mars.

Barron said she often returns to Washington via Spokane and travels northward to Lake Roosevelt, where her husband’s family owns property. The U.S. Navy lieutenant said the past two years of training have been about building team skills with her fellow astronauts, who she said aren’t locked in competition for the coveted position aboard Earth’s next moon-bound vessel.

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any competition among our class,” said Barron. “Our class is incredible. Every single person comes from a different background, and a different perspective.”

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Barron’s desire to travel to space came later than many of her peers, she said. After graduating high school, Barron continued her studies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There, she ran cross country and track under her maiden name, Sax, and attained a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering. Barron was drawn to serving on submarines, and was assigned to the USS Maine ported in Bangor, Washington, after obtaining a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from Cambridge.

After serving underwater, Barron said her attention turned to the stars following a conversation with Kay Hire, a fellow Naval graduate who’d gone on to work at NASA and made two trips to the International Space Station in 1998 and 2010.

“We just geeked out about all the similarities between submarines and the space station, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Barron said.

Hire retired from NASA last February.

Training included test flights on a T-38 supersonic jet, underwater walks meant to mimic those in space and learning the Russian language to communicate with the cosmonauts also assigned to the International Space Station. Barron described herself as a “struggling conversationalist” in the Cyrillic language.

Barron’s graduation means she’ll be the second female astronaut from the region eligible for space travel as NASA begins its Artemis missions with eyes to the moon and beyond. Anne McClain, a 1997 graduate of Gonzaga Prep who served aboard the space station last year, has also been rumored as among candidates for the moon mission.

Barron said she’ll remain in Houston, continuing to train for space walks and assisting the mission from the ground. But she’s eager to continue her journey beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

“All my family’s still in Washington, so Washington definitely holds a really close place in my heart,” Barron said. “I love coming back and visiting. I can’t wait to see Washington from space.”

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© 2020 The Spokesman-Review