Behind Christina Koch’s Historic Space Mission.

Behind Christina Koch’s Historic Space Mission.

Christina Koch’s longest mission in outer space by a woman reveals cutting-edge research and stunning images documenting her almost year-long journey.
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Will I ever be back here?” wondered astronaut and engineer Christina Koch in a TV interview with ABC news. But it was not whether she was going to make it back to Earth after her 328-day mission which concerned her, it was whether she was going to be back in outer space. Her passion and extensive research have proven to be a major element in the future of modern space expeditions: where they can bring us and what they can teach us.  

Koch’s mission, the International Space Station Expeditions 59, 60 and 61, was barely about breaking the record for the longest time in space by a woman. It lies at the forefront of cutting-edge research extending from biology and biotechnology, earth and space science, to growing protein crystals for potential treatments against Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons.  

IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | The reflection in astronaut Jessica Meir’s spacesuit helmet is fellow astronaut Christina Koch photographing her crewmate during a spacewalk. January 20, 2020.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | The reflection in astronaut Jessica Meir’s spacesuit helmet is fellow astronaut Christina Koch photographing her crewmate during a spacewalk. January 20, 2020.

Humans landing on Mars is one of the favourite topics of the decade, but it will not be possible without those like Koch who are providing crucial information and research on the impacts of outer space on the human body over long periods of time. Research on such impacts specifically on the female body, including the Vertebral Strength investigation for example, are needed for future space missions which are seeing more and more women. The female body being known to have different reactions to the male body, analysing these differences is key. The NASA class of 2013 of which Koch was a part of, finally saw a 50:50 gender ratio, so the increase of women in space after historically being marginalised in the field, also calls for intersectionality in space research and its impact on astronauts. 

Outer space was not the only frontier she had conquered as a scientist. Her expertise in electrical engineering and space science instrument development previously led her to spend over three years conducting research in Antarctica, Greenland and Alaska. Working not only as a Research Associate in the United States Antarctic Program, she was also a member of the Firefighting Teams and the Ocean/Glacier Search and Rescue Teams. Spending extensive time in physically and mentally challenging conditions in isolation without family, friends, and usual comforts, all but prepared her for spending almost a whole year in the ‘final frontier.’ 

In her 328 days in outer space, 5,248 orbits around Earth and a 223 million kilometre-long journey during which she saw 16 sunrises and sunsets per day, she became the woman with the longest single space-flight in history. She surpassed Peggy Whiston’s female record (289 days) and came within 12 days of the US record set by Scott Kelly (340 days). Of her six spacewalks during the mission, the first three were historically also the first all-female missions accompanied by Jessica Meir – spending 42 hours and 15 minutes outside of the International Space Station (ISS). She departed on March 14, 2019 along with fellow American Nick Hague and Alexei Ovchinin of Russia, and landed back in Kazakhstan on February 6, 2020 with Alexander Skvortsov of Russia and Luca Parmitano of Italy – with a smile on her face. 

For Women’s Month, we take a look back at IMAGO’s archive showing the before, during and after of this historic space mission –  some of the photos taken by Koch herself, who is also a photographer.  

IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | Astronaut Christina Koch makes observations from the International Space Station’s cupola in September 2019.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | Astronaut Christina Koch makes observations from the International Space Station’s cupola in September 2019.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | Astronaut Christina Koch in the vacuum of space 265 miles above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. January 15, 2020.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | Astronaut Christina Koch in the vacuum of space 265 miles above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. January 15, 2020.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | Christina Koch takes a space-selfie with the Earth behind her during a seven hour and 17 minute spacewalk with Jessica Meir to swap a battery unit – the first all-woman spacewalk. October 18, 2019.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | Christina Koch takes a space-selfie with the Earth behind her during a seven hour and 17 minute spacewalk with Jessica Meir to swap a battery unit – the first all-woman spacewalk. October 18, 2019.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | An aurora in the Earth’s atmosphere aboard the International Space Station, photo taken by Christina Koch.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | An aurora in the Earth’s atmosphere aboard the International Space Station, photo taken by Christina Koch.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | Christina Koch inside the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft during pre-launch training at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. February 27, 2019.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / NASA | Christina Koch inside the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft during pre-launch training at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. February 27, 2019.
IMAGO / ITAR-TASS / Sergei Savostyanov | Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft with Alexei Ovchinin, Nick Hague and Christina H. Koch launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. March 14, 2019.
IMAGO / ITAR-TASS / Sergei Savostyanov | Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft with Alexei Ovchinin, Nick Hague and Christina H. Koch launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. March 14, 2019.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Joel Kowsky | A Composite image, made from five frames, shows the International Space Station as it transits the Moon at roughly five miles per second from Chantilly, Virginia. March 16, 2019.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Joel Kowsky | A Composite image, made from five frames, shows the International Space Station as it transits the Moon at roughly five miles per second from Chantilly, Virginia. March 16, 2019.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Bill Ingalls / NASA | The Russian Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft descends to land ISS Expedition 61 in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. February 6, 2020.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Bill Ingalls / NASA | The Russian Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft descends to land ISS Expedition 61 in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. February 6, 2020.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Bill Ingalls / NASA | Christina Koch is helped out of the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft just minutes after landing in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. February 6, 2020.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Bill Ingalls / NASA | Christina Koch is helped out of the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft just minutes after landing in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. February 6, 2020.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Bill Ingalls / NASA | Russian Search and Rescue teams arrive at the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft after touchdown in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. February 6, 2020.
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Bill Ingalls / NASA | Russian Search and Rescue teams arrive at the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft after touchdown in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. February 6, 2020.
IMAGO / ITAR-TASS / Sergei Savostyanov | A Soyuz-FG rocket booster carrying the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft lifts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. March 14, 2019.
IMAGO / ITAR-TASS / Sergei Savostyanov | A Soyuz-FG rocket booster carrying the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft lifts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. March 14, 2019.
IMAGO / ITAR-TASS / Alexander Ryumin | Christina Koch (NASA) after the landing of the space capsule of the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft. February 6, 2020.
IMAGO / ITAR-TASS / Alexander Ryumin | Christina Koch (NASA) after the landing of the space capsule of the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft. February 6, 2020.
Written by Sofia Bergmann. Part of our Women’s History Month series.

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