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Astronaut and Spokane native Anne McClain blasts off Monday

December 2, 2018

When Lt. Col. Anne McClain was a child, her dream was to become an astronaut.

Now, that dream is becoming reality. On Monday, the Spokane native and Gonzaga Prep alumna will leave Earth as a crew member of NASA’s Expedition 58 to the International Space Station.

McClain and her crewmates – David Saint-Jacques, of the Canadian Space Agency, and Oleg Kononenko, of Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency – will launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, at about 3:31 a.m. PST.

The crew will arrive at the International Space Station approximately six hours later. The trio began training earlier this year at Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, to prepare for their mission. McClain will serve aboard the ISS as a flight engineer for Expeditions 58 and 59.

Shari Manikowski, who was McClain’s math teacher and softball coach at Gonzaga Prep, was invited to watch the ISS Expedition 58 launch and landing from NASA’s Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center in Houston.

“She means so much to me personally, because I’ve stayed connected to her after she graduated and I’ve been able to watch her incredible journey, which has been a real gift,” said Manikowski. “She’s just really an amazing human being. It’s not just her accomplishments, it’s her strength of character. I’m speechless and so honored to be part of her journey.”

Gonzaga Prep is holding a “launch day” event Monday. Students will closely watch McClain’s landing at the ISS about 9:30 a.m. from their classrooms.

Early next year, Gonzaga Prep students – pending NASA approval – may have an opportunity to chat with McClain while she’s aboard the ISS.

During the six-month mission, the crew will conduct more than 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations not possible on Earth. Their findings will advance scientific knowledge of space as well as physical and biological sciences, according to a NASA news release.

McClain is expected to take part in a “Tissues on Chips” investigation, which will launch to the station from a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft. The investigation will allow researchers to explore the effects of reduced gravity on organs at cellular and tissue levels, according to the release.

The Expedition 58 crew also is scheduled to be on the ISS when NASA’s commercial crew partner, Boeing, conducts its first unmanned test flights to the space station.

McClain graduated from Gonzaga Prep in 1997 and spent a year in the ROTC program at Gonzaga University before attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

McClain was commissioned as an Army officer in 2002 and served 15 months in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a senior Army aviator, she has logged more than 2,000 flight hours in 20 different rotary and fixed-wing aircraft.

A Marshall Scholar, McClain holds a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Bath and a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Bristol, both in the United Kingdom.

McClain also played on the USA Rugby Women’s National Team.

In 2013, McClain was selected as one of eight members of NASA’s 21st astronaut class. Her astronaut candidate training included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalks, robotics, physiological training and T-38 flight training, as well as water and wilderness training.

Gonzaga Prep President Michael Dougherty said students are excited about McClain’s participation in NASA’s Expedition 58.

“Everything about her represents the very best we hope to be and the greatest of our hopes and dreams for our students,” Dougherty said. “She inspires us to excellence, and on Monday, when our students look to the stars, they will be able to track her orbit and know that their dreams shall know no limits.”

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