NASA astronaut Christina Koch set a new record at the end of 2019 when she spent more consecutive days in space than any other female astronaut before her. Koch’s precedent-setting legacy for women in space endured until just this past week when she and two others from the International Space Station returned home.
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Koch, accompanied by the European Space Agency’s Luca Parmitano and Roscosmos’ Alexander Skvortsov, departed from the International Space Station via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ride back down to Earth on Thursday. The descent from the Earth-orbiting space lab went smoothly as the spacecraft landed softly in Kazakhstan.
In total, Koch had spent 328 days in space while conducting her NASA-assigned duties as an astronaut on the International Space Station, shattering the previous 289-day record set by Peggy Whitson. Koch’s impressive stay in space comes second only to the 340 consecutive days that former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly spent in space during a long-term research program involving his twin brother on Earth such that scientists could learn more about the effects of space on the human body.
Following her return home, Koch would be subjected to a routine medical checkup to ensure proper health. Given the circumstances of her long stay in space, her medical data could prove valuable to NASA. Understanding the side effects of long-term space travel on the human body is imperative as the future of space science looks to subject humans to deep space missions such as to the Moon and even Mars.
Notably, Koch’s extended stay on the International Space Station wasn’t the only precedent she set that she could be proud of upon returning home. Koch, along with her colleague Jessica Meir, successfully completed the world’s first all-female spacewalk shortly before last year’s holiday season.
It should be interesting to see what NASA scientists might learn from Koch’s medical data. In the meantime, Koch will spend several weeks reacclimating to Earth’s gravitational pull, a process that has been described as nightmarish by some astronauts who’ve lost substantial amounts of muscle mass while living in microgravity.