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NASA Astronaut Christina Koch Returns to Earth After Nearly a Year in Space, Setting a New Record for Women in Space

NASA astronaut Christina Koch spent 328 days in space, the longest spaceflight ever by a woman.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch returned safety to Earth today after 328 days in space, setting a new record for the longest spaceflight by a woman! Koch's original flight was supposed to be only 6 months long, but NASA extended her stay on the International Space Station (ISS) – in part to collect more data about how human bodies function after long periods in space. "It is a wonderful thing for science," Koch said in an interview in December from the ISS. "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.... Having the opportunity to be up here for so long is truly an honor."

NASA astronaut Christina Koch works on space botany research (Credit: NASA)

The 41-year-old engineer is no stranger to adventure, from rock climbing to backpacking to ice climbing, so it's no surprise that space travel has long been on her wish list. "I don't even remember a time when I didn't want to be an astronaut," she reflected. "I had pictures of space up in my room way back in middle school, right next to the boy band posters!"

After earning bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering and physics and a a master's degree in electrical engineering, the Jacksonville, North Carolina native combined her scientific prowess and love of exploration by spending several years conducting research in the Arctic and Antarctic regions as part of the United States Antarctic Program. She joined NASA as part of the 2013 Astronaut Group – the first astronaut class with an equal number of male and female candidates – and completed her training in 2015.

Koch launched to the ISS on March 14, 2019 for Expeditions 59, 60, and 61. In October, she was part of another historic first when she and fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir conducted the first all-female spacewalk. The event made headline news around the world, with millions of girls and women cheering the pair on. Following this widely heralded event, Koch performed five more spacewalks over the course of her mission, spending a total of 42 hours and 15 minutes spacewalking.  She is particularly proud to be a role model for so many young people. "I can be an example to people that might not have someone to look at as a mentor," Koch observes. "It doesn’t matter where you come from or what examples there might be around you, you can actually achieve whatever you’re passionate about."

On December 28, Koch officially exceeded the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, set by fellow NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson's in 2017 with a spaceflight of 289 days.  Her return from space on February 6 put her just 12 days shy of the all-time record for longest spaceflight by a NASA astronaut, set by Scott Kelly in 2015 and 2016. Being a part of a long-duration spaceflight, Koch observes, 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." As for the future, Koch says that her "biggest hope for [this] record is that it is exceeded as soon as possible again, because that means we are continuing to push those boundaries."

Books About Space-Loving Mighty Girls and Women

Baby Astronaut

Baby Astronaut

Written by: Dr. Laura Gehl
Illustrated by: Daniel Wiseman
Recommended Age: 1 to 3

This pigtailed Baby Astronaut is ready for liftoff! She and her crew put on space suits and helmets before they blast off. Once she's in orbit, she'll explain why astronauts float (and even how they sleep.) Then, she'll conduct experiments: Can ants live in space? Yes! Can plants grow in space? Yes! This adorable board book from the Baby Scientist series, which also includes the book Baby Botanist, is perfect for curious babies and toddlers.

To The Stars!

The First American Woman to Walk In Space

To The Stars!

The First American Woman to Walk In Space

Recommended Age: 5 - 9

When Kathy Sullivan was growing up, she hated the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" — because whenever she named an exciting job, people told her it wasn't for girls. But she was determined to change that, so when she was a teenager, she learned to fly a plane, and in 1978 she became one of the first women to be selected by NASA. And when she finally got to space in 1984, she made her mark as the first American woman to perform a spacewalk. This inspiring story ends with a note from Sullivan and capsule biographies of other American women space pioneers. It's perfect for budding astronauts, or for anyone who refuses to believe something "isn't for girls."

The Astronaut With A Song For The Stars: The Story of Dr. Ellen Ochoa
New!

The Astronaut With A Song For The Stars: The Story of Dr. Ellen Ochoa
New!

Written by: Julia Finley Mosca
Illustrated by: Daniel Rieley
Recommended Age: 5 - 9

Ellen Ochoa dreamed of playing her flute professionally — until she discovered engineering in college and was immediately hooked. People doubted whether she could succeed: a girl from an immigrant family wasn't the right sort of person to become a scientist, they thought. She refused to believe them, and not only did she achieve her career in science, but she even became a NASA astronaut. And when she flew into outer space, her flute came with her, so she could play a song for the stars! This appealing biography from the Amazing Scientists series is a colorful tribute to this daring scientist and musician.

Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space

Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space

Written by: Libby Jackson
Recommended Age: 7 - 12

This gorgeously illustrated collected biography honors inspirational women who helped fuel some of the greatest achievements in space exploration from the nineteenth century to today! Galaxy Girls pays tribute to fifty pioneering women past and present, from mathematicians to engineers to test pilots to astronauts. Each capsule biography is paired with striking full-page original artwork from the students of the London College of Communication. Perfect for inspiring the space leaders of tomorrow, this stunning book gives this band of heroic sisters and their remarkable and often little known scientific achievements long overdue recognition.

Gutsy Girls Go For Science: Astronauts
New!

Gutsy Girls Go For Science: Astronauts
New!

Written by: Alicia Klepeis
Illustrated by: Hui Li
Recommended Age: 8 - 11

Imagine blasting off into outer space with this book that profiles famous female astronauts — and encourages you to try hands-on STEM activities related to space exploration! The stories of Bonnie Dunbar, Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Sunita Williams, and Serena Auñón-Chancellor soar in this volume, while the included projects like designing and building space rovers and creating a model of the International Space Station develop critical thinking skills. This full-color book from the Gutsy Girls Go For Science series is sure to make her look at the night sky in a whole new way.

Sally Ride

A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space

Sally Ride

A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space

Written by: Tam O'Shaughnessy
Recommended Age: 9 - 12

This photobiography of the first American woman in space gives a unique peek at the life of Sally Ride! Ride was a competitive tennis player, a book lover, and — believe it or not — an underachiever (at least according to her high school classmates.) After she made history as an astronaut, she also served as an advocate for space exploration and girls and women in science. This book written by Ride's partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, which is full of both personal and media photographs and illuminating and intimate anecdotes, provides a revealing look at this pioneer of space travel.

Women In Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures

Women In Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures

Written by: Karen Bush Gibson
Recommended Age: 12 and up

There are few figures as inspiring as an astronaut: not only are they daring adventurers, they're also intelligent, dedicated scientists! In this book from the Women of Action series, kids will read about trailblazing women from ten different countries who dreamed of traveling to space. Including important figures like the Mercury 13, Valentina Tereshkova, Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Chiaki Mukai, Kalpana Chawla, and many more, this book shares the obstacles they faced, the wonders they saw, and the influence they've made on the world. For any science-lover or would-be space traveler, this book is full of inspiration.

Astronaut Doll

Astronaut Doll

Manufacturer: Mattel
Recommended Age: 3 - 7

Set your sights on space with this astronaut doll from the Barbie Careers line! In honor of Barbie's 60th anniversary, they're reproducing some of the over 200 careers Barbie has filled. This astronaut doll comes in a spacesuit printed with all the zippers, pockets, and hoses that a real astronaut has, as well as white gloves, boots, and helmet. She's sure to inspire your Mighty Girl to reach for the stars!

Sally Ride Inspiring Women Doll

Sally Ride Inspiring Women Doll

Manufacturer: MATTEL
Recommended Age: 6 and up

Budding astronauts everywhere look up to Sally Ride, the first American woman in space — and now they can add this doll from the Inspiring Women line to their toy box or display shelf! This doll is modeled on Ride's appearance and includes authentic details on her iconic blue NASA spacesuit, as well as a helmet and a headset for communicating with Mission Control. The set includes a doll, a stand, and a Certificate of Authenticity.

Amazon.co.uk

Astronaut Costume Set

Astronaut Costume Set

Manufacturer: Melissa & Doug
Recommended Age: 3 - 6

Get ready to blast off with this terrific astronaut dress-up set from Melissa and Doug! Would-be astronauts will love this set, which includes a spacesuit, a helmet, gloves, and a customizable name tag. This beautifully designed role-play set is made of top-quality materials and built to last through countless adventures and year-round imaginative play.

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