The 29-year-old from Richland, Wash., is one of just 12 hopefuls selected from a record 18,300 applicants for NASA's 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class.
On the day that Kayla Barron was to learn whether she had been selected to join NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class, she missed the call from the selection committee by one minute.
“I was working at the Naval Academy during graduation week, participating in a military drill,” Barron, 29, recalled the other day. “It was the one time that whole day when I didn’t answer my phone. I shook my fist at the sky — and then they called me back 45 minutes later.”
Barron, a native of Richland, Wash., is one of just 12 hopefuls selected from a record number of 18,300 applicants. That’s one out of 1,500.
“Some of us are a little nervous about the tempo of our training,” Barron said by phone from the Johnson Air Space Center in Houston, where she will spend the next two years. “But it’s a very supportive culture here. Astronauts, scientists and engineers who are ready for us to go into space.”
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As a child growing up in Richland, Barron was always interested in serving in the military, a goal that was cemented after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After graduation, she entered the U.S. Naval Academy with the plan of becoming a fighter pilot, but instead became a submarine warfare officer, “which was the right fit.”
Barron was one of the first female officers assigned to the USS Maine, a nuclear submarine homeported in Bangor, Wash. She was one of three to five enlisted women out of a 160-member crew.
“If you work hard and are good at your job, that’s what they care about,” Barron said of her male shipmates. “All of the women on my ship approached it that way.
“It wasn’t always perfect,” she added. “Every change is hard. But the community did a great job setting us up for success. We’re getting there. It’s a controlled integration model.”
She spoke of the parallel between her work on submarines and what astronauts are doing on the International Space Station. The “depth of the ocean” compared to “the vacuum of space.”
“The team dynamics and challenges are similar,” Barron said. “When I made that connection, I realized that I might be interested in doing that myself.”
Barron earned a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and, as a Gates Cambridge Scholar, a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Cambridge.
It is there where she met her husband, Tom, an Army Special Forces captain stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
“He’s loving his job there,” she said, when asked of being separated. “It’s worked so far.”
Once she finishes her training, Barron will be assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office while she awaits a flight assignment. That could be on the International Space Station; exploring deep space through missions on NASA’s Orion spacecraft; or working on one of two American-made commercial crew spacecraft currently being developed — Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner or the SpaceX Crew Dragon.
“I just want to get through training,” Barron said. “And then after that, I am looking for a way to support human space flight.”