Kiowa Pilot Becomes First Active-Duty Soldier to Earn Extremely Rare Astronaut Device

U.S. Army astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain talks with Gen. James Dickinson at Johnson Space Center.
U.S. Army astronaut Lt. Col. Anne C. McClain talks with Gen. James H. Dickinson, commander, U.S. Space Command, at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Nov. 10, 2020. During his visit, Dickinson presented the Army Astronaut Device, awarded by the chief of staff of the Army, to McClain in recognition for her 204 days in space aboard the International Space Station from December 2018 to June 2019. (Ronald Bailey/NASA)

This month, Lt. Col. Anne McClain became the first active-duty soldier in Army history to earn the rare astronaut uniform device.

Gen. James H. Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command, presented the Army OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilot and combat veteran with the device during a Nov. 10 ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, according to a U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command news release. The device is considered the rarest qualification device any soldier can receive.

Approved in 1983, it features a gold-colored shooting star with three contrails in elliptical orbit. It's designed to be placed on existing aviation badges.

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McClain became eligible for the device after completing her 204-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) as a flight engineer for NASA Expeditions 58/59 from Dec. 3, 2018, to June 24, 2019, according to the release.

Army regulation 600-8-22 authorizes award of the device to personnel who complete a minimum of one operational mission in space 50 miles above the Earth.

While aboard ISS, McClain participated in space walks on March 22 and April 8 to perform tasks such as modifying the station's robotic arm and installing new batteries for the station's solar arrays. She was supposed to be part of the first all-female space walk set to take place March 29, but there were not enough correctly sized spacesuits available in time for the mission. Another female astronaut performed the mission with a male astronaut instead.

During her time on 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, Army officials said. McClain also helped perform an assessment of the unmanned SpaceX Crew Dragon when it arrived on station March 3.

It was the first commercially built American spacecraft designed to carry humans to ISS when it arrived on station March 3.

McClain is one of three currently serving active-duty Army astronauts and is a member of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command's NASA Detachment.

A 2002 graduate of U.S. Military Academy at West Point, 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.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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