NASA announced on Tuesday that astronaut Christina Koch will have her mission on the International Space Station extended and will likely break the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman (currently, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson holds that record with 288 days). As Space.com explained, “Koch, who launched to the space station on March 14 with colleague Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, will remain in orbit for 328 days, returning to Earth in February 2020, according to the new flight schedule.” Since space station missions typically last for about six and a half months, the extension of Koch’s flight will help NASA gather more data on how human bodies respond to longer spaceflights.
- Her mission is planned to be just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut – 340 days, set by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission in 2015-16.
- Koch’s extended mission will help scientists gather additional data about the effects of long-duration human spaceflight beyond those of the normal six-month station expedition. Such research is essential to support future deep space exploration missions to the Moon and Mars.
- NASA has gathered vast amounts of data on astronaut health and performance over the past 50 years and has focused recently on extended durations up to one year with the dedicated mission of Scott Kelly and extended mission of Peggy Whitson.
- These opportunities also have demonstrated that there is a significant degree of variability in human response to spaceflight and it’s important to determine the acceptable degree of change for both men and women.
Why This Matters: Koch’s research will lay the groundwork for more advanced space missions in the future, like going to Mars! If you remember, Christina Koch was supposed to be part of the first all-female spacewalk that didn’t end up happening as planned last month. We hope she sets this new record, as we’ll be cheering her on from Earth! You can follow Koch’s updates live on Twitter.
A cool thing: Did you happen to see the fireball meteor that exploded over the night sky on the East Coast Tuesday night? If you missed it the footage is pretty cool!