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Remember when NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson set a record for women in space when she touched down on Earth after 288 days in the ISS? That was 2017. This is 2019, and Christina Koch is about to take one giant leap over that record.
NASA has just announced that Koch, who first landed on the space station a month ago, will be extending her stay until February 2020. That 328 days will be the most spent in space by any woman — ever. It will be just short of the 340 days that former astronaut Scott Kelly spent in microgravity from 2015-16, which is the longest time a NASA astronaut has ever stayed outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
Koch was that close to going on the first all-female spacewalk with fellow astronaut Anne McClain until a spacesuit shortage made that mission impossible. She will now be part of three expeditions, starting with Expedition 59, which is already going on, and ending with 61. When astronaut Andrew Morgan joins her during Expedition 60, he will also be in for a long stay even if it isn’t record-breaking.
After Scott Kelly and Peggy Whitson’s extended missions, Koch and Morgan’s will provide NASA scientists with additional data on how the human body withstands a long stretch of spaceflight (and we need of all of that we can get if we intend to send anyone to Mars). Anything beyond a six-month expedition is considered long-term, and a trip from Earth to Mars is supposed to be seven months. That doesn’t even count the time astronauts will spend exploring the Red Planet.
What NASA has learned from studying the effects of microgravity on astronauts is that they are highly variable. Koch’s mission will give NASA valuable data on how a zero-G environment affects women’s bodies over longer periods of time, which can be compared with Whitson’s results to further scientific knowledge of how far we can push the human body.
Congrats, Christina, and we’ll be waving from Earth!