Christina Hammock Koch is a NASA astronaut who is on track to set a new record for the longest time spent in space by a woman on a single mission, with an expected total of 328 days.
Koch launched to the International Space Station on March 14, 2019. She is expected to return to Earth in February of 2020. She won’t beat astronaut Scott Kelly’s record of 340 days in orbit. But Koch will earn the title for the longest single spaceflight by a woman. The current record holder is Peggy Whitson, who spent 288 consecutive days in orbit in 2017.
Koch is also making history for participating in the first-ever all-female spacewalk. She and Jessica Meir replaced equipment on the ISS exterior on October 18, 2019. NASA TV live-streamed the spacewalk on its Youtube channel. Koch was the astronaut with red stripes on her suit.
Here’s what you need to know about Christina Hammock Koch.
1. Christina Hammock Koch Was Part of the NASA Astronaut Candidate Class of 2013 & Her 11 Months In Space Will Help NASA Prepare For Future Missions to the Moon & Mars
Christina Hammock Koch began her training as a NASA astronaut in 2013. The 8-person class, 4 of whom were women, were selected from the largest applicant pool NASA had ever had. More than 6,100 people applied to become an astronaut that year.
Koch is part of three separate expeditions during her time onboard the International Space Station. As explained by NASA, “she participates in scientific research, station maintenance, outreach, visiting vehicle operations and spacewalks.”
The spacewalk on October 18 was Koch’s fourth thus far. It received more attention than the previous spacewalks because it marked the first time that a spacewalk was conducted by a team of two women. Koch remarked that she was thrilled to be in a position to inspire other women. “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… 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.”
Koch shared on Twitter on October 4, 2019, that she was excited to perform five spacewalks in a row. They have been replacing faulty batteries that the Space Station relies on to help power station systems.
Koch is also part of a mission to analyze the long-term impacts of extended time period spent in space. Her 11 months in space will set a new record for the longest consecutive time spent in orbit by a woman. Her 328 days will fall short of the total record set by Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days at the International Space Station.
The research will help NASA prepare for future missions to the moon and Mars. The agency plans to launch a mission in 2024 to send humans back to Mars, a mission that could include the first woman on the moon.
2. Koch Dreamed About Becoming an Astronaut as a Child & Attended Space Camp as a Teenager
Christina Koch dreamed about launching into outer space as a child. She told Glamour in 2016, “My bedroom wall in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was covered in posters of the space shuttle alongside ones of New Kids on the Block.”
Koch attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics as a high school student. She told her alma mater in a recent interview that at first, she felt nervous at the school being surrounded by so many highly intelligent students. Koch explained, “This was the first time I got a taste of something that I’ve tried to hold onto: using intimidation or feeling scared to actually fuel your success, to turn it around and use that as motivation to achieve what you might not have thought was possible before.”
It was during high school that Koch had the opportunity to attend space camp at NASA. It was there that she figured out that she didn’t want to take the traditional path toward becoming an astronaut (more on that below).
After graduating from high school in 1997, Koch went on to North Carolina State University. She earned bachelor’s degrees in physics, and a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
3. Koch’s Research Has Taken Her to Places Including Antarctica, Greenland, & American Samoa
Christina Koch began her professional career with a job at NASA. After graduating with her master’s degree, Koch moved to Maryland to work as an engineer at the Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
But after two years there, Koch decided to do something different. She became a research associate with Raytheon Polar Services in order to move to Antarctica. According to her LinkedIn profile, Koch spent three years in Antarctica and the South Pole.
Koch explained to her high school alma mater for a profile that the elements at the South Pole were similar to that of space. Temperatures can drop more than 100 degrees below zero, it is dark for several months of the year and the terrain is rough. But Koch said she loved every minute of her time spent there. “When you have a sky full of that many stars, absolute darkness, all the stars come out, and you have the Southern Lights, the auroras… I absolutely loved it.”
Koch’s next move was back to the United States, where she spent two years as an electrical engineer at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s Space Department. But she wasn’t done in the field just yet. Between 2010 and 2013, Koch spent back time in Antarctica and conducted research at Summit Station in Greenland. She also went to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, serving as a field engineer in Alaska and then as a Station Chief in American Samoa.
4. Christina Koch’s Says Her Love of Rock Climbing & Her Antarctica Experience Helped Her Get Selected For the NASA Astronaut Class
As referenced above, while at space camp as a teen, Koch learned about the traditional path most astronauts took to get to space. But she decided she would take her own path, hence the years spent in Antarctica, Greenland and the norther-most parts of Alaska. Those experiences in extreme weather conditions on Earth helped Koch to stand out when it came time to interview to be a part of the astronaut class of 2013.
But it was also Koch’s personal hobbies that helped her to stand out among the NASA applicants. The interviewers were very interested in talking to her about her love of rock climbing. Koch told NCSSM that her skills in that area turned out to be helpful as she prepared for spacewalks. While rock climbing, she had to focus on preventing herself form falling because there was no rope to catch her. Koch explained, “t taught me something really important. You can rely on yourself to get out of situations when they are quite frankly scary, and with enough focus and enough confidence you can actually overcome obstacles.”
On her NASA bio, Koch notes that she also enjoys backpacking, paddling, surfing, running, yoga, community service, photography and travel.
5. Christina Hammock Koch Says She’d Love to Go to Mars But Would Miss Her Husband
Christina Hammock Koch is married to husband Robert Koch. According to her NASA bio, the couple was last living in Livington, Montana.
Koch has said that she would love to be chosen for a future mission to Mars. She says that while at the South Pole, she learned how to combat homesickness. She packed several boxes and would designate later dates for when she was allowed to open them.
In a 2016 interview with Glamour, Koch said that if she was selected for a Mars mission, “I’d definitely miss my husband… For Mars I’d ask my family and friends to make small surprises for me to open on designated dates. A handwritten card when you’ve been away 15 months can be the best thing imaginable.”