Koch will spend a total of 328 days in space, breaking a record previously set by Peggy Whitson (Image credit: NASA)


NASA astronaut Christina Koch recently made history. The 40-year-old electrical engineer broke the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, breaking the previous record of 288 days set by former Station Commander Peggy Whitson. Koch is expected to spend a total of 328 days onboard before she returns to Earth in February 2020. Typical missions last about six months, but NASA revealed back in April that it was extending Koch’s mission.


Koch’s lengthy stay is essential to help NASA learn about the effects of long-term spaceflight on the human body. This information could be vital is NASA plans to return to the moon or even touch down on Mars. 


"It is a wonderful thing for science. We see another aspect of how the human body is affected by microgravity for the long term. That is really important for our future spaceflight plans, going forward to the moon and Mars," said Koch.


But this isn’t the first time Koch has set records. Back in October, she set another milestone by participating in the first all-female spacewalking team. It marked her fourth spacewalk overall. "I think that highlighting it was the first all-female EVA, [or] spacewalk, is important because seeing those milestones be broken tells people where we are at and where we think the importance lies," said Koch. "I think it is inspiring because future space explorers do need to see people who remind them of themselves."


Hailing from Livingstone, Montana, Koch graduated from the NASA Academy Program at GSFC in 2001. She then started work as an electrical engineer at NASA’s GSFC’s Laboratory for Higher Energy Astrophysics. She later applied her engineer background to the Space Department of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, where she focused on space science instrument development. During this time, she contributed to instruments studying radiation particles for NASA missions, including the Juno and Van Allen Probes.


In 2013, she was selected by NASA as part of Astronaut Group 21 and completed her training in 2015. On March 14, 2019, Koch launched to the International Space Station on Soyuz MS-12, alongside Aleksey Ovchinin and Nick Hague, to join the Expedition 59/60/61 crew.


Koch has received numerous awards and honor during her time at NASA and John Hopkins, such as the NASA Group Achievement Award, NASA Juno Mission Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument, 2012; Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Invention of the Year nominee, 2009; United States Congress Antarctic Service Medal with Winter‐Over distinction, 2005; and NASA Group Achievement Award, NASA Suzaku Mission X‐ray Spectrometer Instrument, 2005.


So, what keeps Koch going? A dash of fear, she reveals to CNN. “Do what scares you. Everyone should think about what intrigues them and what draws them in. Those things can kind of be scary a little bit, but they usually mean that you’re interested. And if it’s just outside what you think is attainable for you and you reach it, it really pays dividends in more ways than one. It can be rewarding for you personally, and it usually means that you’re giving something back to the world in the maximum way possible.”


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