Astronaut and electrical engineer Christina Koch went for a dramatic finish to 2019 – on December 28, her 289th day in space, she broke the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, surpassing the 2017 record of Peggy Whitson (don’t worry – Whitson, a great mentor to Koch, was excited, tweeting out an enthusiastic congratulation lauding the progress!). And Koch is not done yet! Koch went to space in March and is expected to return February 2020, with a total space time expected to be 328 days (12 short of Mark Kelly’s American single-flight record).
By staying there such a long time, Koch is helping NASA study the effects of long-term space trips on the body. Based on what they learn, NASA will hopefully be able to well prepare astronauts for explorations of places like Mars which take a long time to get to. in addition to collecting data on how her body is responding to space conditions, she works to find out more about space itself and keep the International Space Station (ISS) functioning. And she’s performed some really cool experiments – including using the gene-editing tool CRISPR to introduce breaks into yeast DNA and see how they healed. Koch had already made history another way in 2019 – in October she and fellow astronaut Jessica Meir carried out the first all-women spacewalk.
So how’d she get to be a star literally among stars? Koch was born in Michigan and grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina. She graduated from North Carolina State University with a BS in Electrical Engineering & Physics, followed by a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering In 2001 she graduated from a different kind of school – Goddard Space Flight Center’s NASA Academy program. Before becoming an astronaut, she worked as an electrical engineer developing science instruments for other astronauts and probes to use – at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s Space Department. Some of the instruments she helped develop included tools for measuring radiation particles used by NASA’s Juno and Van Allen Probes.
Even before becoming an astronaut, she got used to extreme environments – From 2004 to 2007, she served as a Research Associate in the US Antarctic Program, working on remote scientific field engineering and serving on firefighting and search and rescue teams. And she later went to other harsh locations and worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a Field Engineer and Station Chief.
In 2013, she was one of 8 selected for NASA’s 21st astronaut class. So back to class she went – it was time for intensive astronaut candidate training, which involved classes and lots and lots of practical training, and which she completed in July 2015.
She went to space March 14, 2019 to serve as a flight engineer on Expeditions 59, 60, & 61. She is expected to have carried out 6 spacewalks before she returns to Earth in February 2020. In addition to traveling in outer space, Koch enjoys traveling here on earth too – as well as rock climbing, surfing, and engaging in community service. She has received numerous awards including ones from NASA, Johns Hopkins and the U.S. Congress. Congratulations Christina Koch!
Photo credit: NASA