Record-breaking NASA astronaut Christina Koch is set to return to Earth tomorrow on February 6, 2020, after spending 328 days in space– the longest single spaceflight by any woman. In a press release, NASA said that Koch will return to Earth alongside European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov.
Koch has been living and working aboard the International Space Station to help scientists gather data for future missions to the Moon and Mars. She is also only the second US astronaut to spend such a long time on the International Space Station (ISS) in a single spaceflight.
Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly holds the longest single spaceflight for US astronauts at 340 days, set during his one-year mission in 2015-16. In terms of overall time spent in space, she is now seventh on the list of US astronauts.
Christina Koch’s work on the ISS
During her record-breaking spaceflight, Koch has been a crew member for three expeditions — 59, 60 and 61. Her mission included participation in more than 210 investigations, helping advance the space agency’s goals to return humans to the Moon under the Artemis program and prepare for human exploration of Mars, NASA said.
Koch also participated in a number of studies to support those future exploration missions, including research into how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight. She also worked on the Microgravity Crystals investigation, which crystallizes a membrane protein that is integral to tumour growth and cancer survival.
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During her spaceflight, Koch completed 5,248 orbits of Earth and a journey of 139 million miles, roughly the equivalent of 291 trips to the Moon and back. She also supported the arrivals and/or departures of more than a dozen Soyuz and cargo resupply spacecraft from the U.S., Japan, and Russia. Koch ventured outside the confines of the space station for six spacewalks during her mission, spending 42 hours and 15 minutes outside the station. Among those was the first all-woman spacewalk, which she conducted alongside NASA astronaut Jessica Meir.
Dangers of long-time spaceflight
Long-time spaceflights are not good for the human body. NASA has gathered data about astronaut health and performance during the past 60 years and has focused recently on extended durations up to one year with the dedicated mission of astronauts like Scott Kelly, Peggy Whitson, Andrew Morgan, and Christina Koch.
NASA says that it has a rigorous training process to prepare astronauts for their missions, a thoroughly planned lifestyle and work regimen while in space, and a rehabilitation and reconditioning program for them after they return to Earth. It says that these measures help the human body remain robust and resilient even after spending nearly a year in space.
✨ “We have a responsibility to the people that we represent up here, to carry people’s dreams into space with us.” –@Astro_Christina ✨
— ISS Research (@ISS_Research) February 3, 2020
During her mission, Koch also participated in the Vertebral Strength investigation, which better defines the extent of spaceflight-induced bone and muscle degradation of the spine, and the associated risk for broken vertebrae. Her work is expected to provide insight into the development of future countermeasures, such as preventative medicine or exercise for the astronauts onboard the ISS.
“These results also could provide recommendations for limiting the amount of force astronauts are subjected to during launch,” NASA said.
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