Tri-Cities, WA students have face time with NASA astronaut Kayla Barron

Reed Spencer, a retired Richland professor, thinks one of his former AP chemistry students is “moon material.”

And he’s not talking about rocks – he thinks she might just be the first woman to walk on the moon.

Lt. Commander Kayla Barron – a NASA astronaut who recently spent 6 months conducting research on the International Space Station – is back in the Tri-Cities this week for a series of educational talks, mostly at public schools and at WSU Tri-Cities.

Her first stop on Tuesday brought her back to her alma mater, Richland High School.

“She was a leader and she was good,” Spencer, 73, said. “But this girl has confidence and it shows in everything she says. And I think that’s true for all American high schoolers: your confidence comes from having experiences and accomplishing what you set out to do. when you have doubts.

It’s been almost a decade since Barron, a 2006 Richland graduate, was back at her old school. One of the last times she was there, she spoke to one of Spencer’s classes as a freshman from the US Naval Academy.

“It’s just nice to be back in my hometown,” Barron said. “I think the Tri-Cities community, Richland in particular, my teachers, coaches, mentors, friends here have been such a big part of me developing the confidence I needed to pursue big dreams and goals going forward. road.”

Barron spoke to a packed auditorium about life on the ISS, conducting experiments, how she became an astronaut and what’s next for her.

“Showing off is the most important part,” she said, as dozens of students raised their hands to ask questions.

She also spent time chatting with about 60 high-level STEM, physics and chemistry students.

Growing up, she never imagined herself as an astronaut. But challenging herself in the military and surrounding herself with professionals helped her navigate her current career path.

“The only thing you really have to do if you want to be an astronaut is get a STEM degree. There are totally different routes to arriving in a blue flight suit and speaking in a high school auditorium,” she said. said “For me it was the military, studying engineering, working in an operational field.”

“But we have Martian geologists, we have microbiologists, we have doctors, we have military pilots — we have people from all walks of life,” she said. “And I think what unites us is (besides) the fact that we studied STEM, but really our passion for teamwork.”

Barron was also scheduled to visit students at River’s Edge High School, fourth-grade students in the Pasco School District, and students and teachers at WSU Tri-Cities. She also spoke at Tuesday night’s first annual STEM Connections Gala for Education Professionals.

Astronaut Barron on board
NASA astronaut Kayla Barron received her lapel pin as a NASA astronaut who flew into space from astronaut Tom Marshburn shortly after boarding the International Space Station on November 12. Courtesy of NASA Television

Steve Fisk, principal of Richland High School, said in a press release that he hopes students understand that “anything is possible if you set goals, work hard and persist. For our students, they will see a Bomber graduate who made history and demonstrated what it means to be a woman leader in the modern age.

His tour was made possible thanks to the association SILAS Education.

Barron holds a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering from the Naval Academy and also earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Cambridge, England, as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. She was stationed for three years on the USS Maine submarine and served three deployments to the Pacific Ocean.

Barron is also scheduled to speak at the Richland Public Library at 7 p.m. Thursday as part of the Community Lecture Series offered by the Columbia Basin College Arts Center.

Admission is free but seating is limited and seats are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. It will also be broadcast on Zoom by going to with meeting ID 811 7157 1297 or by phone by calling 253-215-8782 or 206-337-9723.

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NASA astronaut Kayla Barron works inside the International Space Station’s Life Sciences Glove Box, conducting botanical research on the genetic architecture of plant regeneration in space. Courtesy of NASA

curious minds

While on the ISS, Barron’s team conducted more than 350 experiments.

The students at Richland High School had intriguing questions for Barron:

  • What entertainment is there on the ISS?

Astronauts have “almost constant” internet access, so it’s easy to download movies, TV shows and music.

  • The weirdest thing she’s gotten used to living in zero gravity?

Living in microgravity is fun but also challenging, Barron said. You have to adapt to a whole new way of life and way of life. “You’re kind of like a baby again, learning to live in space. You have to learn to move, to move your body. You have to learn how to keep track of a lot of your stuff. So you have to develop a whole bunch of new habits that are second nature by the time you’ve been up there for a few months. But those first few weeks? All bets are off.”

  • Was adjusting weightlessness to Earth’s gravity difficult?

For Barron, the transition home was more difficult than coming to the ISS. She could not walk for the first two hours of her return to earth. Her neurovestibular signals, which function as a frame of reference for her senses, went haywire – she had to regain her terrestrial coordination and struggle with vertigo.

  • Can you speak with the family?

Barron said she has weekly video conferences with her family while on the ISS. It’s much better than being in a submarine.

  • Are there political tensions or rules between countries conducting research at the ISS?

Barron said the crew’s shared mission of research and international cooperation largely overshadows any geopolitical fissures that may be underway. His tenure on the ISS coincided with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but this event had no impact on their cooperation. “We develop really deep and meaningful relationships with these colleagues.”

  • Did his stay in space affect his view of science fiction films or space?

Not much, she said. His favorite space movie is still “Apollo 13”. Despite its flaws in precision, space media can be useful in “inspiring people to do what they think is possible”.

  • What was his biggest obstacle?

“The fear of failure. I think it’s really easy to dream big and harder to chase those dreams because you have to accept the possibility that you might not get to where you hoped to go, or that you might put yourself out there and you stumble and fall and do in front of a lot of people,” she said. But luckily, she says, she had a support network.

New moon launch date

NASA plans to return Americans to the moon by 2024, including the first woman and first person of color to walk on the moon. Barron is part of NASA’s Artemis team, a group of astronauts who will continue their work and research on the Moon and Mars.

Artemis 1, the team’s first lunar mission – an unmanned mission – will test all of the systems that will bring Americans back to the moon. Its launch date, which has seen delays, is currently set for September 27.

Barron will leave the Tri-Cities on Friday for Houston to rest before focusing on Artemis 1.

“We’re excited to be back and we’re going back in a different way this time around,” she said. “We’re not going back to visit a very small part of the moon and leave, we’re going back to stay. We’re going to have a permanent human presence on the moon.

Barron said she would likely have several different roles in Project Artemis. It’s hard for her to come to terms with the idea of ​​walking on the moon, and she hopes everyone on the team will have the opportunity to do so throughout Artemis’ lifetime.

“It’s hard to imagine being so far from home, but we’re going to do it. And it’s just the amazing nature of the space sector, especially the international cooperation that we have in the astronaut program. We’re going to bring the best minds, the best operational thinkers to bear on these programs,” she said.

“Stay tuned – we’re gonna do some awesome stuff with Artemis.”

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Eric Rosane is a civic responsibility reporter who joined the Tri-City Herald in February 2022. He previously worked for the Daily Chronicle in Lewis County, covering education, county government and the Legislature . He graduated from Central Washington University in 2018.

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