Christina Koch Returns After 328 Days in Space


Kylie Ha, Staff Writer

After setting an astonishing world record for the longest spaceflight in history by a woman, NASA astronaut Christina Koch returned to Earth on Feb. 6, along with Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency (ESA). 

In a safe parachute-assisted landing, Koch returned around 4:12 a.m. EST, southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Her extended mission trip will allow researchers at NASA to observe the effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman, as the agency plans to return humans to the moon under the Artemis Program and ultimately prepare for human exploration on Mars. 

Launching alongside fellow NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin on Mar. 14, 2019, Koch’s first journey into space ended up being 328 days, which holds the title for second-longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut and places her 7th in the cumulative list of time spent in space for American astronauts with one or more missions. Koch worked as a Flight Engineer on Expeditions 59, 60, and 61; Skvortsov and Parmitano were launched in July 2019 with Andrew Morgan to work the last two.

With 139 million miles under her belt, Koch completed 5,248 orbits around Earth, which is approximately equivalent to 291 trips to the moon and back. During her 11 months in orbit, she conducted six spacewalks, including the first three all-woman spacewalks, and spent 42 hours and 15 minutes outside the station. 

For Skvortsov and Parmitano, the landing marked a 201-day stay in space, which is equivalent to 3,216 orbits around Earth and a total of 85.2 million miles. Morgan, who is currently participating in an extended duration mission, is on the orbiting laboratory and plans to return back to Earth on Apr. 17. 

By completing his second expedition, Parmitano has now officially logged 367 days in space, more than any ESA astronaut in history. Skvortsov completed his third journey, with a total of 564 days in space, which places him 15th on the all-time spaceflight endurance test. 

The crew of Expedition 61 contributed to hundreds of vital experiments in biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development, and improvements to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer in an “effort to extend its life and support its mission of looking for evidence of dark matter and [test] for 3D biological printers to print organ-like tissues in microgravity” (NASA). 

Following their post-landing medical evaluations and tests, the crew will return to recovery staging in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. Both Koch and Parmitano will board a NASA plane set for Cologne, Germany, where Parmitano will be greeted by ESA officials for his return home. Skvortsov, on the other hand, will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center aircraft to return to his home in Star City, Russia. After Germany, Koch will head home to Houston.


Photo courtesy of SCIENCEALERT.COM