While most Gonzaga Prep students were hustling to class before the 8 a.m. bell, an alumna of 1997 was circling the Earth for the third time this morning.
Lt. Col. Anne McClain says she’s wanted to be an astronaut since she was 4 years old. And during her time at Gonzaga Preparatory School, no one told her that wasn’t possible; instead the school encouraged her trajectory toward NASA.
She left Russia at 3:30 Monday morning PST and docked at the International Space Station at 9:30 a.m. while Gonzaga Prep students watched live.
"We’re sitting right now where she was back in her high school days and it’s really cool just to know that you can be anyone if you just really strive to your dreams and all that," said Rigee Olavides, a junior who hopes to become an engineer one day.
McClain graduated from West Point with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Then, she went to England to gain two master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and international security before flying helicopters as an Army officer in Iraq.
She was selected as an astronaut right after finishing test pilot school in 2013.
Senior Ned McEwen, an aspiring pilot, remembers when she visited Gonzaga Prep three years ago.
"She talked about her time at Prep and she talked about going to West Point," he said. "That was really inspirational for me because now I’m kind of on track to go to a service academy."
McClain’s mission to the International Space Station was announced last spring, and Gonzaga Prep has been abuzz leading up to today.
"This morning we watched quite a few videos dealing with the International Space Station and stuff, and we talked about the math behind how she got there," said senior Molly Niedermeyer, who is in Advanced Placement physics along with McEwen.
"And all the factors that have to line up for them to perfectly be able to board onto the space station," McEwen added. "That’s fascinating."
Teacher Karen Rounder said her biology students will learn about experiments happening at the space station and how to grow plants in space-like conditions.
In math classes, students have been learning about the calculations astronauts like McClain are making. One especially excited math teacher is Shari Manikowski, a mentor to McClain who was in Houston for the launch and docking.
Gonzaga Prep President Michael Dougherty said McClain’s achievements show students that their dreams should know no limits.
"You try to teach your students to reach for the stars and normally that’s a metaphor. But, today’s the kind of day when that kind of dream and metaphor becomes a reality," he said.