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Camas astronaut Barratt ready for takeoff in SpaceX mission to space station in February

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 25, 2024, 5:36pm
5 Photos
In mid to late February, Mike Barratt, 64, will embark on NASA's SpaceX Crew-8 mission to the International Space Station.
In mid to late February, Mike Barratt, 64, will embark on NASA's SpaceX Crew-8 mission to the International Space Station. (NASA) Photo Gallery

Mike Barratt, Camas’ space explorer, is en route to orbit for the third time.

In mid- to late February, Barratt, 64, will embark on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-8 mission to the International Space Station. There, they will support the floating lab’s operations and further scientific exploration of humans and the cosmos.

Barratt’s duties cover “everything it takes” to run the space station: conducting science experiments, maintaining operations and going on spacewalks to upgrade the station’s systems. His expertise, however, is in space medicine.

Specifically, he will continue researching how humans can “literally become extraterrestrials,” said Barratt, who is board certified in internal and aerospace medicine.

Muscles, bones and the immune and nervous systems transform to adapt to zero gravity, sometimes in ways that aren’t ideal. Space allows scientists to discover more about how humans work, which can translate to solving medical problems on Earth.

“You wouldn’t even know to look for them on the ground,” he said.

Crew members include NASA astronauts Barratt, the spacecraft’s pilot; Matthew Dominick, commander; and Jeanette Epps, mission specialist, as well as Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin, mission specialist.

They will shake, rattle and roll through extreme g-forces, launching into the sky from zero to 17,500 miles per hour in a matter of minutes.

Barratt previously participated in two spaceflights, spending a total of 212 days in space. He said launch is not a trivial experience. Imagine feeling an immediate full-body rush — not being able to interpret which way is up or down — until you’re floating. The sensation remains unique — no matter how much training someone undergoes.

“That visceral experience is amazing, and it will always be that way,” he said. “It’s one of the most defined and seminal moments of any astronaut’s life.”

The SpaceX Crew-8 mission marks the ninth human spaceflight mission on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and the eighth crew rotation to the space station. There is no firm mission launch or return date, but Barratt expects it to last around six months.

Earlier this month, the crew finished training and familiarized themselves with their spacecraft, Endeavour. Endeavour, a stark white 14-by-12-foot capsule, has spent 450 days in orbit across four missions, making it the longest crewed spacecraft — surpassing NASA’s retired space shuttle, Discovery.

The crews are part of an ongoing galactic revolution: the commercialization of space.

NASA has contracted with companies in the private sector, including Boeing and SpaceX — an initiative called the commercial crew program. These partnerships support NASA and its allies’ overarching goal to create a human spaceflight economy, an effort that will allow the U.S. space agency to invest its resources on deep space missions to the moon and Mars.

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Busy year ahead

The year ahead is packed with space missions.

In October, NASA plans to launch Europa Clipper, its largest spacecraft, to explore whether the ocean on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, can support life.

Later in November, the space agency plans to carry out the Artemis II mission which will take four astronauts on a journey around the moon.

Meanwhile, SpaceX will fine-tune Starship, the largest rocket and spacecraft system ever made. Attempts at space tourism will surge ahead, as will Earth-monitoring missions.

For Barratt, space exploration sheds light on Earth’s vulnerability and how it is humans’ responsibility to steward it. Care goes beyond just perpetuating our existence. It’s crucial for sustaining a fulfilling life.

“Nobody could look back at their home planet and not be transfixed or transformed,” Barratt said. “You appreciate the fragility of your planet, this beautiful blue marble in the blackness of space.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer