Astronaut Christina Koch, who graduated from North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham and NC State, has been selected to be the first woman to fly around the moon.
Koch is already in the record books as being part of the first all-female spacewalk and completing the longest single spaceflight by a woman.
NASA has now selected her to be part of the Artemis II mission. That mission will be the first manned mission of the Artemis program. It will test if the Orion spacecraft can function properly with humans aboard.
The Orion spacecraft has already successfully traveled around the moon without anyone aboard. Ultimately, the Artemis program plans to use the Orion spacecraft to land humans on the moon again and eventually send them to Mars and beyond.
"The unique Artemis II mission profile will build upon the uncrewed Artemis I flight test by demonstrating a broad range of SLS and Orion capabilities needed on deep space missions," said Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager. "This mission will prove Orion's critical life support systems are ready to sustain our astronauts on longer duration missions ahead and allow the crew to practice operations essential to the success of Artemis III."
Artemis II is scheduled to send Christina Koch, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman and Jeremy Hansen into space in 2024. The mission will take approximately 10 days, but the system will need to undergo massive amounts of testing first to make sure it can support humans living and working in deep space, NASA said.
This will be the first set of missions that NASA has used to send a crew to the moon since the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972, more than 50 years ago.
In total, the Artemis expedition includes four missions, each of which will cost roughly $4.1 billion. The project will cost up to $93 billion by 2025, according to an audit from the NASA Office of the Inspector General.
Artemis III plans to send four astronauts to the moon in 2025 while Artemis IV plans to be the second lunar landing in 2027.
Meet Christina Koch
Koch was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but she was raised in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
She attended North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham before getting her Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Physics and Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She then earned an honorary Ph.D. from North Carolina State University in 2020.
Koch has often touted her North Carolina ties and used her platform to encourage young people to pursue STEM.
"We had thousands and thousands of students -- middle school, high school students, packing a gigantic ballroom on campus. And it was amazing. Those kids were just enthralled that they were speaking directly with Christina," said John Blondin, a professor of physics at NC State who taught Koch, as he recalled the astronaut holding a virtual event while aboard the International Space Station.
She's helped motivate them using a simple message.
"Her message basically is, 'Don't be afraid. Go for it.' And it's great (for) those young people to hear that message, and dream big,'" Blondin explained.
In 2020, Koch was named to Time 100 Most Influential List.
NC State alum Christina Koch enjoying holidays on International Space Station