Astronaut with ties to eastern Idaho training with NASA, hopes to be first woman on the moon in 2024
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IDAHO FALLS – It’s been more than 50 years since man first set foot on the moon, but NASA is planning to do it again in 2024.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has selected 18 astronauts for the Artemis program. Vice President Mike Pence introduced the members of the Artemis Team last month during the eighth National Space Council meeting at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“We are incredibly grateful for the president and vice president’s support of the Artemis program, as well as the bipartisan support for all of NASA’s science, aeronautics research, technology development, and human exploration goals,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We’re excited to share this next step in exploration – naming the Artemis Team of astronauts who will lead the way, which includes the first woman and next man to walk on the lunar surface.”
Each of these astronauts is training in hopes of making the cut. Among them is Kayla Barron, who has ties to eastern Idaho. She was born in Pocatello and grew up in Richland, Washington.
Barron graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering and later earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Cambridge, according to her bio on NASA’s website.
Barron became an officer in the navy in 2010, where she qualified as a submarine warfare officer. She was among the first group of women to serve in that capacity.
In a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com, she told us about her background, how she was selected, what training is like and more. A partial written transcript is below or you can listen to the entire conversation in the video above.
RETT NELSON, EASTIDAHONEWS.COM: Talk about the recruitment process. How did you end up getting selected?
KAYLA BARRON: It took about 18 months from submitting my application to finding out that I was selected. But that’s because NASA has a really thorough process. A lot of people apply and it takes them a while to get through each application.
NASA announced they were interested in hiring another class right around the time I first got interested in the program. I was encouraged to apply even though I was convinced I would never get it, that I was too junior in the navy, didn’t have enough experience yet. I was really intimidated by the process by I put my application in and a few months later heard I was invited for the first round of interviews.
We have two rounds of in-person interviews where you come down to Houston for about a week. You do a bunch of medical testing, psychological testing, but also have formal interviews with the selection committee. I made it through the first round and ultimately got the call that I was selected for the 2017 astronaut candidate class.
NELSON: Give us an idea of what training is like. What are some of the scenarios that you train for?
BARRON: We do a lot of training in different dimensions. Some are really close to what we’ll actually do in space and some are more foundational skills that we’ll draw upon in a variety of situations.
We have a facility called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston. It’s a gigantic indoor pool. It’s 40 feet deep — the largest indoor pool in the world. We have a lifesize model of the space station submerged in it. We can go underwater in real spacesuits. We have a team of scuba divers that help us simulate a microgravity environment so that we can practice end-to-end from the airlock, out doing six hours of work, and then coming back to the airlock to go inside, just like a real spacewalk might feel like.
For the moon missions, we’re already starting to develop training that helps us feel like we’re in one-sixth gravity so we can see how the suit moves, how our tools might work, how we might interact with each other to be most efficient on say, a geology mission, going out to see what interesting samples we might want to collect.
The other kind of training I alluded to maybe doesn’t apply in a one-to-one way like that but helps us be ready for a variety of situations. An example of that includes flying in an aircraft training jet called the T-38. It’s a two-seat jet the Air Force uses to train its fighter pilots, but we use it to practice making decisions in real-time when there’s real consequences. You’re in an ejection seat aircraft flying at really fast speeds. During normal and off-normal situations, you have to be able to work together and make good decisions while accomplishing your mission and keeping your buddy safe. Those situations are important because … then when you’re on a lunar lander, you’re used to that high-pressure environment where our training can kick in and we use our procedures and protocols to accomplish our goals.
NELSON: Has there been anything during this training that’s taken you by surprise or that was unexpected?
BARRON: A couple of things.
I didn’t really know a lot about how we trained for spacewalks. Obviously, it’s something that really captures your imagination — the chance to not only go into space but to go out in a suit on a spacewalk either on the space station or on the surface of the moon. It really motivates me to want to train hard in that environment.
I’ve been surprised by how challenging it is but also how fun it is. It reminds me of my background in athletics — It’s a team sport. You’re out there with a buddy — but also my background on the submarine force, in that you have to rely on people with different kinds of expertise to accomplish your tasks while working in that environment.
The other surprise is how much I enjoy flying. When I joined the Navy, I originally wanted to be a pilot and then I decided to actively pursue the submarine warfare community because I thought it would be a better fit for me.
Now that I get to fly as part of my job, I understand even more why I was originally drawn to it because it’s a lot of fun and it’s a really cool environment to work in.