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Record-breaking NASA astronaut Christina Koch returns to Earth after 328 days in space

By Elizabeth Rayne
Christina Koch

Record-breaking astronaut Christina Koch just landed after a mind-boggling stint in space, but even after all that time in orbit, she never really missed gravity.

“I only miss it when you just really want to put things down occasionally, but I’ve gotten used to Velcro and taping things down instead,” the NASA astronaut, who recently touched down, told ABC News. “I don’t really miss it; it’s a lot more fun without it.”

Koch spent a staggering 328 days on the ISS, breaking the record for the longest single spaceflight by any woman, which was until recently held by Peggy Whitson. She came just short of the ultimate record for time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut — the 340 days Scott Kelly was floating around up there. That makes her seventh overall. She also participated in the first all-woman spacewalk ever with co-astronaut Jessica Mair, and yes, that is the same one that almost didn't happen because of spacesuit issues.

While the former electrical engineer conducted over 210 studies aboard the space station, she herself was the subject of a few, such as the Vertebral Strength investigation, which was meant to find out how muscle and bone in the spine degrade in microgravity. The results of this study could help NASA with assessing the risk of broken vertebrae and developing new preventative measures for future astronauts. Koch’s time on the ISS gives the space agency more data to add to that from the long-duration missions of Scott Kelly, Peggy Whitson and Andrew Morgan’s 10-month mission, which he is halfway through.

So what was the most difficult thing about living, functioning, and otherwise just being in space for such an extended stretch?

“I think the challenge is remaining vigilant, remembering that you really are surrounded by a hostile environment,” Koch told ABC in the same interview. “A single emergency or a single string of failures could bring you into a chance where you have to exercise some of that really important training that we had on the ground.”

NASA’s rigorous astronaut training program definitely had her back on that.

Out of all the research projects Koch worked on while remembering to stick things in place, she feels the most memorable was the Microgravity Crystals investigation. It almost sounds more mystical than scientific. The reality of this study, which is almost as unreal, is that it could help make breakthroughs in thwarting cancer. Crystallizing a membrane protein that contributes to both tumor growth and cancer survival yielded much better results in zero-G than it did on Earth.

“I’m very happy for you,” retired astronaut Peggy Whitson gave Koch a shoutout from an anti-gravity facility on the ground, floating away as she exclaimed, “We all know gravity sucks!”

(via NASA/ABC)