On Day 1 of her training as an astronaut, Navy Lt. Kayla Barron walked out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and watched with her new colleagues as the moon partially blotted out the sun.
Eclipse glasses in hand, the Naval Academy graduate said she began to get a sense of her place in at the agency. The astronauts are some of NASA’s highest-profile employees, but Barron said they’re just one part of the team.
“Everybody here is really excited about what they're doing and doing really interesting things,” Barron said Tuesday in an interview. “In a big-picture sense everybody comes to work for the same reason.”
Barron, 29, was working as an aide at the academy in Annapolis when she was selected earlier in the summer to become an astronaut. She’ll now embark on two years of training with 11 other NASA candidates and two Canadians.
Many of the lessons will focus on the workings of the International Space Station, but there is a chance that members of the 2017 class — the agency’s largest in years — could end up on a mission to Mars.
“There’s a lot for us to learn, a lot of new things to master,” Barron said.
Among them: working from the back seat of a training jet, practicing spacewalks in a pool, and getting to grips with speaking Russian.
Barron was initially interested in pursuing a career as a naval aviator, but couldn’t meet the eyesight requirements. But now NASA will train her on its supersonic T-38 jets, working alongside a pilot and learning about making quick decisions and communicating clearly and getting used to extreme G-forces.
Barron will keep her Navy rank but said NASA’s astronaut office blends military and civilian cultures — a reflection of the varied backgrounds of the trainees.
“It’s an interesting kind of melting pot,” she said.
The trainees are expected to bring their own ideas to the class and learn from one another.
Barron, who has a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge and served as one of the first female officers on a submarine, said her military experience taught her about working as an engineer under extreme conditions.
“I think that gives me a bit of perspective on how you can keep your equipment and team running when you're in a hostile place with limited resources,” Barron said.
During a question-and-answer session between the trainees and three astronauts on the International Space Station, biochemist Peggy Whitson said being able to fix things is one of the most important parts of the job.
“You can’t be hesitant about taking something apart and putting it back together,” Whitson said.
Barron, who said she’s both excited and nervous about learning Russian, asked the astronauts what advice they had about working with crew members from other nations.
Col. Jack Fischer said that it was important not just to learn the language but to gain an understanding of the other culture.
“It’s no different from how you would figure out how to get along with anyone in a small-group dynamic,” he said.
Barron is originally from Richland, Wash., but will now be living in Houston near the space center.
“We all live out in town,” she said. “We have a real life outside of work.”