Army Astronaut to Return Following 204-Day Space Mission

Expedition 58 Flight Engineer Anne McClain of NASA speaks with friends and family after having her Russian Sokol suit pressure checked in preparation for her launch aboard the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft on Dec. 3, 2018, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
Expedition 58 Flight Engineer Anne McClain of NASA speaks with friends and family after having her Russian Sokol suit pressure checked in preparation for her launch aboard the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft on Dec. 3, 2018, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

She didn't get to participate in a much-anticipated first all-female spacewalk, but U.S. Army astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain is returning to earth with plenty to show for her time in space.

McClain will begin her journey home June 24 after spending 204 days in space aboard the International Space Station, according to an Army news release.

Since December, the Army OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilot and combat veteran has conducted several experiments, such as studying plant growth in microgravity and participating in two space walks on Expeditions 58 and 59.

McClain will return to earth on a Soyuz "Union" MS-11 spacecraft at 7:25 p.m. Eastern on the 24th, according to the release.

McClain was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 2013 and completed her training two years later. Prior to being selected as an astronaut candidate, she served 15 months flying combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"The Army astronauts have a very proud legacy in the astronaut program," McClain said in a statement.

While aboard the ISS, McClain also participated in space walks on March 22 and April 8 to perform tasks such as modifying the station's robotic arm and install new batteries for the station's solar arrays, according to the release.

She was supposed to be part of the first all-female space walk that was scheduled for March 29, but there were not enough correctly-sized spacesuits available in time for the mission. Another female astronaut performed the mission with male astronaut instead.

McClain also helped perform an "assessment" of the unmanned SpaceX Crew Dragon, the first commercially built American spacecraft designed to carry humans to the ISS when it arrived on station March 3, according to the release.

During her time on the ISS, McClain has conducted space-specific experiments dealing with the study of on-orbit radiation detection, human immune-system response and antibody production and protein crystal formations to provide insight into Parkinson's disease, the release states.

U.S. Army astronauts will continue their presence aboard the ISS later this year, when astronaut detachment commander Col. Andrew Morgan is scheduled to begin his planned nine-month mission aboard the ISS on July 20 -- the 50th anniversary of the Apollo XI lunar landing, according to the release.

The Army has been involved with the space program since 1958 launch of Explorer 1, the United States' first satellite. The release added that an Army rocket carried the first U.S. astronaut into space.

Over the years, 18 Army astronauts have been selected by NASA with 16 of those flying aboard the Space Shuttle, Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and the ISS, according to the release.

"I can tell you that just like everywhere else in the Army, the biggest attributes that we can bring to the table are leadership and team skills, and those traits that I learned in the Army as both a follower and as a leader working in austere environments with small groups in high gain tasks where lives are at risk," McClain said. "Those traits have absolutely transferred over into my time at NASA, and I think that is the best thing that we can bring to NASA."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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