Christina Koch has been back to Earth for a year after spending 328 days in space. The longest single spaceflight by a woman, and second only to Scott Kelly in NASA records.
To Koch, it was not about making history, but about giving back.
“Well, I think the biggest thing, the biggest takeaway for me was that it was an opportunity to give back. So, I kind of just marched through, kind of completing the mission and what was put before me, that’s what it was all about. I never necessarily thought that there would be a historical aspect attached to it, but the chance to give back, the chance to inspire the future and just reflecting on how lucky I was to be there in that moment at that time was the primary thing that was going through my mind.”
Koch inspired so many during her time on the International Space Station, but she also found inspiration herself.
“You know, one of the things I wasn’t necessarily prepared for, while I was in space, was how incredible it would be to look back on your home on the Planet Earth. The first time I was looking down from the Cupola, which is what I call our bay window on the Space Station, and I saw over the horizon the North Carolina Outer Banks kind of come into focus and suddenly be recognizable, was completely overwhelming. It took my breath away. But to see the place that you call home, that you recognized on a map as your home for your entire life, and then to see it on the Planet Earth on that scale against the backdrop of the universe is pretty profound.”
When asked about another favorite moment in space, this came into Koch’s mind.
“And coming home and coming through the plasma of Earth was also a very incredible experience. Like I said before, it was every bit as exhilarating and unique and just an incredible thing as you think it would be to come back to a planet from space.”
Perhaps one of the most iconic parts of the mission was when Koch was part of the first all-female spacewalk.
She completed six spacewalks during her mission. Three of those were all-female spacewalks.
“Another highlight was the moment that Jessica (Meir) and I, on the first all-female spacewalk, first egressed the airlock, which is the NASA speak for when you come out of the airlock, we caught each other’s eye and we smiled. Because at that moment, we knew that no matter what happened, if there was a technical glitch and we had to go back in, that we had done it. We were outside. The first time two female voices were on the loops from outside the Space Station in space suits. And that was a really special moment.”
Next on the horizon is the Artemis program. Koch is one of eighteen astronauts named to the program, which plans to land the first women and the next man on the Moon by 2024.
There is quite a lot to do before mission assignments, but Koch is excited for what Artemis means for all of humanity.
“To me, what the mission really represents is that NASA is committed to answering humanity’s call to explore by all and for all. We’re an example of how you’re most successful when you take contributions from every single part of the world, and the planet and humanity. It’s an example of how everyone has to fight equally hard to achieve their dreams and I’m just really proud to be a part of it.”
Christina also has a special message for her fellow North Carolinians.
“What inspired me was being in my backyard, looking up through the pine trees and seeing the stars behind them. Going to the beach, I like to say things that made me feel small. Things that made me ponder the size of the universe. And North Carolina is full of things like that. So, looking no farther than your own surroundings and looking to yourself to one, inspire the people around you and to bring your best every day is what I would tell North Carolinians.”