One Long Trek for Womankind

Varsha Bhargava ‘23

328 days floating around the atmosphere in a large metal capsule—literally—in little to no gravity. 328 days to take in the rare, wondrous views of the universe, views that so few get to see with their own eyes. 328 days of performing scientific feats. 328 days, 139 million miles travelled. 


All of this was accomplished by one woman, Christina Koch. 


On March 14, 2019, Christina Koch embarked on a journey that would go down in history—she boarded the ship that would carry her on the longest continuous spaceflight made by a woman. 


Leading up to her career in astronautics, the accomplished 41-year-old received her Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering in 2001, and her Masters of Science in electrical engineering in 2002. Both degrees were earned from North Carolina State University. 


During Koch’s monumental trip to space, she embarked on several scientific explorations , including her studies of space-grown plants and the behavior of fire in space. Another one of Koch’s projects involved investigating proteins that could be used to treat cancer through the Microgravity Crystals Investigation. She even had the chance to explore the effect of space travel on her own body, due to the extensive period of time she spent there, made possible through the Kidney Cells Investigation. Koch also contributed to efforts to mitigate its negative effects, through the Vertebral Strength Investigation.


And on [landing date] her historical mark on the world—even on the universe—was sealed. She landed in the Soyuz spacecraft, near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, with two other astronauts, Luca Parmitano, an Italian astronaut belonging to the European Space Agency, and Aleksandr Skvortsov, a Russian cosmonaut belonging to the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities. 


Shortly after landing, she remarked, “I am so overwhelmed and happy right now,” feeling the refreshingly crisp wind of the Kazakhstan winter on her face after having been cooped up in an airtight capsule for almost eleven months. 


Additionally, during her remarkable trip, Koch added another item to her list of historical feats. Koch and a female colleague, Jessica Meir, completed the first ever all-female space walk, of which the purpose was to replace a battery charge-discharge unit.


Originally, this space walk was scheduled to occur sooner, but after a snafu in space suit dispersal, the trip had to be pushed back to accommodate issues with the fit of the space suits. It was this very same problem that actually caused Koch to break the record that she did. Her record-breaking trip was only supposed to last for six months, but due to a scheduling error with the flights, her trip was stretched out to 328 days. This led her to receiving the title of the woman who traveled for the longest time continuously in space. The previous holder of the title was Peggy Whtison, who traveled continuously in space for 289 days.


Koch has expressed pride in her achievement, but that she does wish to keep possession of her title for long—Koch has stated that she wants to see other females going out there and accomplishing bigger and better things than her.