Window on the World

Astronaut Christina Koch delivers a fresh perspective on Earth.
by Tim Peeler

Christina Koch has seen the Earth from every angle, its bright blue landscape captured with her trusty digital camera from 250 miles above the planet’s surface. Last March, the NASA astronaut returned from a 328-day stay on the International Space Station, the longest time spent by a woman in space. Koch participated in six spacewalks, includ- ing the first-ever with an all-female crew, and spent 42 hours and 15 min- utes tethered outside the space station making repairs and conducting experi- ments.

In all, Koch orbited the Earth 5,248 times and traveled 139,053,992 miles. Koch first remembers dreaming of space as a 5-year-old in Grand Rapids, Michigan — and a stint in Space Camp cemented her vision. Her family moved to North Carolina, and she attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics for high school, then earned bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and physics and a master’s in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University.

“My time at State was one of constant discovery,” Koch says.

After graduation, Koch worked as a NASA engineer, then as a researcher
in remote outposts like the South Pole, Greenland, and American Samoa. Those assignments taught her to live in isolation, without the company of friends and family — helpful not just for her time in space, but for her return to Earth in the midst of a pandemic.

“Being comfortable with not seeing your loved ones in person and finding ways to be supportive virtually is a big parallel with being at the space station,” Koch says.

Her next celestial steps: Koch was selected to be part of NASA Artemis, a program that will land the first woman and next man on the moon. A three- year mission, Artemis I will fly to the moon without astronauts and without landing, Artemis II will take astronauts into the moon’s orbit, and Artemis III will return humans to the surface of the moon for the first time since 1972.

“It’s very exciting,” says Koch. “I’ll probably know the first woman and next man to walk on the surface of the moon — any of us would be ready and honored to accept that mission.”