NASA astronaut Christina Koch sets longest spaceflight record by a woman after spending nearly 300 days in space

When she arrives back on Earth in February 2020, she will have surpassed former station commander Peggy Whitson's record


                            NASA astronaut Christina Koch sets longest spaceflight record by a woman after spending nearly 300 days in space
NASA astronaut Christina Koch (NASA Johnson)

On December 28, 2019, NASA astronaut Christina Koch broke the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, when she crossed the 288 day mark. According to NASA, that is more than an “entire school year in space”.

Koch surpassed former Station Commander Peggy Whitson's record. When she arrives back on Earth in February 2020, Koch will have spent more than 300 days in space. 

The International Space Station tweeted the space milestone: “NEW RECORD! NASA astronaut @Astro_Christina now has a place in the record books for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, eclipsing former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson’s record of 288 days. @AstroPeggy went back to zero gravity to say #CongratsChristina.”

The 40-year-old flight engineer arrived at the International Space Station on March 14, 2019. Koch is currently part of three expeditions — Expedition 59, 60 and 61, and is scheduled to remain in orbit until February 2020. While onboard, she participates in scientific research, station maintenance, outreach, visiting vehicle operations and spacewalks.

In November 2019, Koch wrote on Twitter, “Suspended in time, for a cure. On @Space_Station, we're studying Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in a way we cannot in gravity. Here, we can see the protein clusters of these diseases as they form in floating liquid drops.” 

In another Tweet in October this year, she wrote: “Curb appeal. It’s not often I get to see my house from the outside. This photo I snapped on my spacewalk last Friday captures the habitable modules that I have called home for the last eight months. Pretty lucky to be living inside an engineering marvel.”

Whitson, who retired from NASA in June 2018, currently holds the record for having accumulated 665 days in space, the most for any US astronaut.

Koch participates in her first spacewalk (NASA Johnson)

Before becoming an astronaut, Koch’s career spanned two general areas: space science instrument development and remote scientific field engineering.

Selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2013, she completed astronaut candidate training in July 2015. Koch was assigned to her first space flight, a long-duration mission on the International Space Station, in 2018. 

She is a native of Michigan, grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and most recently resided in Livingston, Montana. 

This is not the first time that Koch has made history. In October 2019, she was part of the first all-female spacewalk. According to NASA, while it was the 221st spacewalk performed in support of space station assembly, it was the first to be conducted entirely by women — NASA astronauts Koch and Jessica Meir.

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Koch harvest Mizuna mustard greens. The two were part of the all-female spacewalk in October 2019. (NASA Johnson)

“The first all-woman spacewalk is a milestone worth noting and celebrating as the agency looks forward to putting the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024 with NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program. Our achievements provide inspiration to students around the world, proving that hard work can lead you to great heights, and all students should be able to see themselves in those achievements,” said NASA in a statement

Spacewalks are usually described by astronauts as the most physically challenging thing they do. The October all-female spacewalk was Koch’s fourth.

When asked in an interview about the importance of conducting her mission and this spacewalk, Koch said, “In the end, I do think it’s important, and I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing. In the past women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the space program at a time when all contributions are being accepted when everyone has a role. That can lead in turn to increased chance for success. There are a lot of people who derive motivation from inspiring stories of people who look like them, and I think it’s an important story to tell.”

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