Students had a lot of questions for Lieutentant Commander Kayla Barron when the NASA astronaut returned to her hometown this past week.
Some questions were born from vivid imagination and wonder and maybe a little bit of silliness of our elementary students—“Have you seen an alien?” “Did you drink Tang?” “Is the moon made of cheese?”
Others from high school students demonstrated an understanding of Lt. Commander Barron’s journey to become and serve as a NASA astronaut—“Was it scary going to the space station?” “What was your first spacewalk like and how did you prepare?” “What has been your biggest obstacle?”
Answering those questions, showing students the work she engaged in on the International Space Station and even working with a few on a space exploration-themed project were all part of Lt. Commander Barron’s visit. Throughout it all her message to students was to push themselves toward their goals.
“If you never try, you can’t succeed,” she said. “Seeking to join NASA was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It’s easy to close doors on ourselves but you have to be willing to take a chance, even if it means you may stumble.”
Lt. Commander Barron, who graduated from Richland High in 2006, recently returned after a six-month mission aboard the space station. It was her first mission to space and was the latest chapter in a career that started with her attending the U.S. Naval Academy, becoming one of the first women to serve as a submarine warfare officer, and then applying and being accepted as a NASA astronaut.
Her visit was made possible by non-profit SILAS Education and included a two-day tour throughout the Tri-Cities. The focus of her engagements was the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and preparing the next generation of scientists, engineers and explorers.
At Richland High and Lewis & Clark Elementary, Lt. Commander Barron showed students videos of her and her crewmates performing experiments in space and answered their questions about her experiences. Her responses ranged from the incredible (“You train for years and then invite your mom to come watch you ride a bomb into space.”) to the less glamorous though critically important parts of working in space (“I had to be a space plumber and a space IT support person.”).
At River’s Edge High, she worked hands-on with students on a STEM-focused project testing designs for a potential rover that could work on the surface of the moon. NASA’s Artemis mission aims to return astronauts to the moon and establish a permanent base and Lt. Commander Barron is part of the mission’s team.
“It’s pretty cool and awesome,” said one River’s Edge student while working with Lt. Commander Barron. “It almost makes me want to go to space.”
School and district leaders said the astronaut’s visit was a unique opportunity for their students.
“The hope for our students is that they can see the possibilities of being successful in school and the application of this success will continue to the real world,” said Marc’ Nelson, principal at Lewis & Clark. “Seeing a Richland student be in space and having such success is a motivation to work hard and achieve it all.”