Since Dec. 3, when Lieutenant Colonel, Astronaut Anne McClain ‘97 launched into space and arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), students and employees of Gonzaga Preparatory School have been filled with inspiration and the notion that following your dreams is not only possible, but within reach. On that day the Prep community watched as McClain, an alumna who walked the same halls and sat in the same classrooms as them, achieved her lifelong dream and helped pilot the ship that launched and arrived at the ISS.
The school schedule and class activities focused on the launch and arrival the the ISS. Excitement ensued as students and teachers discussed the reality that a person from their city and from their school was now orbiting around the Earth. In the months following McClain’s arrival at the ISS, Prep organized a private “downlink” or video call between McClain and a group of Prep students and faculty.
Local schools and guests joined in the excitement and celebration of McClain’s accomplishment as the community prepared for Space Day Spokane, a collaboration between Mobius Science Center, Avista Corp., and Gonzaga Prep to host a public NASA downlink with McClain. On May 15, 2019, over 1,200 students from local schools and Gonzaga Prep, parents, and honorary guests filled the Scarpelli Gym to participate in this historic event.
The event began with Steve Schreiner `97, a classmate of McClain’s, giving an introduction to McClain and her accomplishments over the years. Schreiner encouraged the students in the audience, telling them that they are following in the footsteps of McClain and they shouldn’t limit their ambitions. He directed the audience’s attention to the big screen, and the crowd waited in silent anticipation as NASA Mission Control connected the call from Gonzaga Prep to the ISS.
Cheers from the crowd erupted as McClain appeared on screen and she revealed the Gonzaga Prep t-shirt she was wearing beneath her uniform. “I am loud and clear, and I’m very excited to hear from you,” said McClain, “Welcome to the space station, everybody.”
When the downlink began, a series of students questioned McClain. Questions ranged from what it is like to sleep in space, to the research McClain and her colleagues have been conducting, to how she came to be an astronaut.
“I was inspired by exploration and outer space since I was a little girl,” McClain told students. “I was 3 years old when I told my parents I wanted to be an astronaut, and that dream never changed.”
While in space McClain has not only achieved her dream of going to space, she has been hard at work conducting scientific research and maintaining the ISS. The Expedition 58 crew has worked on more than 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations that are not possible to complete on Earth. “Every day we are answering big questions,” said McClain. “We’re also learning new questions to ask.”
According to NASA, the findings from their research will advance scientific knowledge of space as well as physical and biological sciences. McClain has also conducting experiments to help with the maintenance of the ISS and has helped with transferring cargo into the Space X Dragon cargo ship, a ship that transports supplies to and from the ISS.
As the presentation wrapped up, McClain expressed the importance of following your passion, no matter what you do. She spoke of the career paths that she and her colleagues took to become astronauts. “We all took very different paths, but we all followed our passion” said McClain.
With a two hand wave and a pair of front flips, McClain signed off, promising she’d return to Earth soon. A feeling of awe and wonder lingered as students and guests processed the experience. Space Day Spokane will go down in history as a day when students witnessed the actualization of a dream and what it means to follow your passion. McClain’s accomplishments and the hard work she has done to achieve her dreams has inspired us all. We can’t wait to see what she does next.