SPOKANE, Wash. — NASA astronaut Anne McClain, who is a Gonzaga Prep alum, launched to the International Space Station Monday morning.
She and two other astronauts launched from Kazakhstan Monday morning to begin their ascent to the space station. The trip will take about six hours.
McClain boarded the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. She was selected by NASA in 2013 as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class.
McClain is serving as a flight engineer and will also be part of an experiment testing how gravity affects cells and tissues. It's the first experiment of its kind.
She is be helping her team with about 250 other research investigations and demonstrations that aren't possible on Earth.
The entire mission will take about six months to complete, so McClain and her team won't be returning until June 2019.
Spokane Mayor David Condon released a proclamation on Monday declaring Dec. 3 as Anne McClain Day.
McClain is a Senior Army Aviator and logged more than 2,000 flight hours.
Since she was just three years old, she knew she wanted space to be her second home. Ever since then, she’s worked hard toward her goal.
"When I went off to preschool, I told my parents, ‘I'm going to school to be an astronaut,’” McClain said. “I don't know what struck me at that age. I can't define it, but I do know that it has been something so magical that has given me such a purpose my whole life. I'm really looking forward to achieving it."
McClain earned a degree in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering from West Point and has received several military honors and awards. She served 15 months in Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying more than 800 combat hours on 216 combat missions as pilot-in-command and Air Mission Commander.
Since she's been at NASA, she's gone through two years of rigorous mental and physical training. McClain has also taken Russian language classes so she can speak with fellow astronauts on the space station.
She's done a lot since her time at Gonzaga Prep, but she hasn't forgotten about her roots.
Shari Manikowski was McClain's math teacher about 20 years ago. She said she's been in contact with her former student all throughout her career.
"We've kept in touch over the years. I followed her through West Point and then to the Army, and then through NASA. It's pretty amazing,” Manikowski said.
McClain has been a pillar of inspiration at the school. Manikowski also said McClain has been an inspiration for her current students.
"We've been following her every day as she gets closer and closer to launch, and we've had a countdown for over two hundred days since she originally found out that she was going up to space."
Earlier this year, McClain was inducted to the Gonzaga Prep Hall of Fame for her accomplishments. In her acceptance speech, McClain thanked the members of the school and previewed her upcoming trip.
"I look forward to coming back in person after a little adventure to the lower earth orbit on the International Space Station,” she said. “Although I can't come home in person for a little while, know that when you look up, I'll be flying over you over the course of six months, over two thousand times.”
Three years ago, McClain returned to the school to speak with students about working toward their dreams. On Monday, some of these same students will watch their fellow Bullpup on her journey to outer space.
On Monday morning, Gonzaga Prep is having a “launch day” to celebrate and learn more about McClain and her accomplishments. Students will have time to watch McClain dock at the International Space Station.
Several of their math and science classes will be related to space exploration. Near the beginning of the New Year, students will also have the opportunity to talk to McClain while she's in space.