Astronaut Christina Koch returned to Earth last week after a historic spaceflight that saw her spend more time in space than any woman before and join two of her female colleagues for the first all-women spacewalk ever.
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Koch spent 328 days in space as a member of three expeditions on the International Space Station. During her nearly 11 months in space, she made 5,248 orbits around the Earth and traveled a total 139 million miles. The record spaceflight saw Koch participate in more than 200 scientific investigations, including a look at how such a long term in space physically affects a woman.
“It’s wonderful to stay really busy with all the work we’re doing, both the scientific experiments, the maintenance and upgrades to board the space station, the experiments we do on ourselves,” Koch told FOX News’ Bill Hemmer Wednesday.
And while there wasn’t much free time on board the ISS, Koch described the “multitude of emotions when you look back at Earth.”
But after a few months onboard the space station, it started to feel like home.
“I kind of forgot I was floating until a new crew would come and they’d be so excited about floating,” she said.
Koch went on six spacewalks during the expeditions, including the first three all-women spacewalks. She spent a total of 42 hours and 15 minutes outside the space station. But Koch said she wasn’t concerned about making history, though she’s happy to be able to provide an example for future generations of space explorers.
“Milestones provide motivation for people, so I think it’s a good thing to recognize,” Koch said.
The scientific work contributed to NASA’s efforts to return to the moon and eventually send humans to Mars. It’s been said that the first woman who will go to the moon is already in the astronaut program. Could Koch be that woman?
“It’s certainly a very exciting time to be part of the NASA family when we are looking to go back to the moon,” she said during a press conference in Houston Wednesday.
“Of course, anyone in our office would be honored to be part of that mission,” she added. “I am just excited that I’ll know the first woman and the next man to walk on the moon.”
Koch holds two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree from North Carolina State University in physics and electrical engineering. Her path toward becoming an astronaut was not necessarily typical, but Koch said that after attending a class on “how to become an astronaut” at space camp as a youth, she decided she didn’t want to live her life as a checklist.
She started her career as an electrical engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, contributing to several missions. After working a number of stints at remote scientific bases, including the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, NASA selected Koch as an astronaut in 2013. Koch said it was those experiences that came up the most during her interviews as a candidate.
“My main message to anyone who has a dream is to follow your passions,” she said.
Since returning to Earth, Koch said her first order of business after getting used to walking again was to reunite with her dog — “she was very excited," Koch said — and to visit the beach with her family.
“After 328 days in space, my first six days back on Earth were filled with just as much wonder and excitement,” she said.