(Astronaut Christina Koch working on board the ISS, image credit: NASA)
NASA astronaut Christina Koch has already set numerous records in her brief career with the agency. I recently had the opportunity to interview Christina via telephone from her home in Houston, Texas.
I ask how she is feeling these days after her record setting 328 day stay onboard the International Space Station (ISS)? “I feel really good. I have my dog here curled up beside me here, and I have been enjoying my work.” Christina’s 328 days in space is the single longest mission for a woman, ever!
Christina is from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Physics as well as a Master of Science, all from North Carolina State University. Before being selected by NASA as an Astronaut Candidate in 2013, Christina worked as a Research Associate with the United States Antarctic Program from 2004 – 2007. part of her work with the program involved a yearlong stay at the Admunsen-Scott South Pole Station. I asked Christina if these research missions were a good analog for preparing for an ISS long duration mission? “Yes, you know they really were. I did not know it at the time, I was just pursuing my research, but in retrospect, yes. Professionally, socially, managing the workload and the “Groundhog Day” aspect to the days working and living here, it really did prepare me well for what the extended ISS mission would be.”
We discussed the odd situations that come up going through the astronaut application process. Christina emphasized, “I was very happy doing my Antarctic research. It was very intersting work. I actually hit send on my astronaut application to NASA from Juno, Alaska on one of my research missions.” Reflecting for a moment, Christina added, “It’s tough, you enjoy the work you are doing, its challenging, you have the beginning of a career, your like your colleagues, the people you work for and the friends you make in this field, and then this entirely different opportunity comes up where you will have to leave all of that.”
“That can seem a bit scary at first”, she added.
After completing astronaut candidate training in 2015, Christina was assigned her first space flight in 2018. She was parts of the Expediation 59, 60 and 61 missions. Her mission to the ISS launched on March 14, 2019, and during her stay she made some more history taking part in the first all-female spacewalk with fellow astronaut Jessica Meir. Christina’s nearly year-long stay on the ISS concluded with her return to Earth on February 6, 2020.
Christina’s current assignment has been in Human Factors for the Commercial Crew Program. Human Factors is the interface between the astronaut and their vehicle, in this case that would be the vehicles of the Commercial Crew Program, the SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. Both of these new vehicles are designed to take astronauts to and from the ISS for regular crew rotation flights.
A very enthuiastic “Yes!” is my answer, when I ask Christina what she would say if offered a Project Artemis lunar landing flight assignment. (NASA is currently planning to send the first woman and next man to the Moon in 2024)
In wrapping up our interview, I wanted to ask Christina if she had any advice for young women out there that might be very intersted in science or math, but are not sure where to go with it? Christina quickly responded, “Have passion and interest in what you are doing, and be willing to take a risk. Do something that scares you a little bit. She added, “The Antarctic research work i did scared me, but in a good way, it pushed me to grow and challenge myself.”