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Even From Space, Anne McClain Stays Tethered To Young People In Spokane

By Shawn Vestal The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Shawn Vestal reports, "[Anne] McClain has rocketed to worldwide fame over the past year as a member of the Expedition 58 and 59 to the International Space Station. She spent 204 days in space and went on two space walks that amounted to more than 13 hours."

The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

When Ned McEwen was a sophomore at Gonzaga Prep, a VIP alumni came to visit: Anne McClain, class of '97.

McClain had not yet broken the bonds of Earth as an astronaut, had not yet taken her famous space selfie or been the subject of a "Saturday Night Live" skit. But her record of achievement was extraordinary. West Point grad and international scholar. National class athlete in rugby and softball. Decorated Army helicopter pilot and officer. On and on and on ... McEwen realized McClain's path -- the road of discipline and self-improvement as a form of service to the country -- began at Prep. Right where his path was beginning.

"It really showed that I could do the same thing," said McEwen, 18. "I had never even heard of a military academy at that point."

Today, McEwen is home on break from his first year at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he intends to study to be a mechanical engineer. That visit from McClain several years ago was just one of the times McEwen and his fellow students at Gongaza Prep heard from McClain over the years.

Even as she went to space and became internationally famous as an ambassador for NASA and space exploration, McClain remained tethered to Prep and Spokane. She even video-chatted with Prep students from space, and visited them, along with students from other schools citywide, upon her return to Earth.

It is not, in McClain's view, a mere sideline to her main job.

"That is one of the products of our space program: inspiration and motivation," McClain said last week. "My space flight wasn't mine. It's yours. It's everybody's. It's everybody's who's reading this article. It's everybody's on Earth. It's their space mission. I have to share it."

McClain has rocketed to worldwide fame over the past year as a member of the Expedition 58 and 59 to the International Space Station. She spent 204 days in space and went on two space walks that amounted to more than 13 hours. In the months since she returned to Earth in June, she's been undergoing medical tests, participating in debriefings and doing outreach around the country.

She was due to be a member of the first all-female space walk but NASA scrubbed the mission because they didn't have the right-sized spacesuits.

When McClain visited McEwen's sophomore class, though, her career had operated entirely in Earth's gravity.

She had been a Marshall scholar in England after graduating from West Point in 2002, and she earned a pair of master's degrees overseas. She was commissioned as an Army officer, and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel. She published research on aerodynamics, security in developing countries and other subjects.

In the Iraq War, she flew 216 combat missions -- more than 800 hours in all.

She's a senior Army aviator with more than 2,000 hours of flying 20 different forms of aircraft. She was awarded the Bronze Star, which heads a long list of military honors, and she was a distinguished graduate of seemingly every course and school in the Army.

"What gets lost in her story is how much she served in the military, and how many missions she flew," said Shari Manikowski, McClain's former math teacher and softball coach at Gonzaga Prep. "She's done so much to serve her country."

Space was always her goal. As a very young child, McClain had seen astronauts and moon launches at home on TV. It was part and parcel of growing up in a family with a mother who was a science teacher.

"Anything that launched, anything that went to the moon and back ... all of that, we always watched it when she was little," said Charlotte Lamp, Anne's mother.

And so, when she began preschool, Anne had already settled on a career path.

"She said, 'Mom, I'm going to school to learn to be an astronaut,' " Lamp said.

"All we want for our children is to launch successfully. I didn't mean for her to take it literally." -- Charlotte Lamp, Anne McClain's mother

McClain grew up in Spokane, attending parochial schools, playing sports and never wavering in her dreams of space.

By the time she graduated from high school, she recognized her goal was extraordinarily ambitious, and two important precepts began to guide her: the understanding she would have to work very hard to get where she wanted to be, and the understanding even if she did that, she might not achieve it.

She chose an Army career in part because, if she never became an astronaut, she would still be able to be a helicopter pilot, she said.

It was a pathway that required intense devotion. And McClain -- whose nickname from her rugby days is "Annimal" -- has that in spades.

"It's not as simple as dream big and your dreams will come true," she said in a Thursday interview. "It's just not that simple. It's dream big and then spend 20 years missing holidays, moving to cities that you don't know, working with people that you don't know, taking jobs that you don't want but having to excel anyway, and doing the extra credit and getting up at 5 o'clock on a Tuesday to hit the gym when everybody else is sleeping in, and skipping parties, skipping trips, missing weddings -- and then your dream might come true."

Manikowski said McClain's determination was apparent early on.

"She worked as hard or harder than any student I've ever had," she said. Lamp said that as a girl, McClain was active and energetic, curious and optimistic.

"She always wanted to see further, go further," she said.

Go further she did, gathering challenges and honors along the way for 16 years after leaving Spokane. And in 2013, around the same time she was graduating from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, the first step in the lifelong dream came true: She was selected by NASA as one of eight members of the 21st astronaut class.

Lamp was out gardening when her daughter called her with the news. "She said, 'Where are you?' " Lamp said. "I said, 'I'm out pruning the roses.' She said, 'Are you sitting?' "

"I kind of screamed."

"Sometimes we explore just so we can look back at where we came from and understand the context in which we live." -- Anne McClain

The next step, following five more years of that intense training and work McClain talks about, came around this time last year. As part of an international crew of astronauts, McClain launched into space.

Expedition 58 and 59 conducted hundreds of research projects on the space station in biology, biotech and other disciplines, including investigating small devices that replicate human organs and editing DNA in space for the first time.

McClain was a trailblazer in a couple other ways, as well. She was expecting to participate in the first all-female space walk in history before problems with the suits forced her to scrap it.

The space-suit kerfuffle and McClain's stiff-upper-lip response to it became the basis for a skit on "SNL," in which Aidy Bryant pretended to be McClain trying to cheerfully subdue her outrage. McClain tweeted from space: "I am still laughing about this, and Aidy, your uniform looks impeccable!"

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