NASA astronaut, NCSU alum Christina Koch reflects on historic all-female spacewalk one year later

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Sunday marks one year since Christina Koch made history by taking part in the first all-female spacewalk alongside Jessica Meir.

"It wasn't necessarily about our own personal getting to do that spacewalk. It was more about celebrating the fact that NASA is committed to going by all, for all. We're marking sure that no one who wants to contribute is left out, that every innovative idea is on the table," explained Koch.

The North Carolina native attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham and NC State, and is still close with professors on-campus. She is proud of her local ties, even bringing a North Carolina state flag with her on the mission, and continues to connect with youth hoping to follow in her footsteps.

"I think Jessica (Meir) and I see it just as that - a responsibility. We are so grateful to the people that came before us that were our role models that paved the way for us to be in the position to do what we were doing. And we just want to keep reinforcing the idea of being that role model, mentoring people, making sure that we are paying attention to the next generation of explorers. Not only inspiring them by doing our best every single day, but by actually reaching out and doing mentorship, and making sure we're connecting the dots between generations," said Koch.

Koch spent 328 days aboard the International Space Station, the longest-ever by a female. While on her mission, she said she learned more about the value of research in space.

"One thing that I actually came to learn while I was in space that was kind of a surprising nuance to why we do human research there is that a lot of the effects of microgravity on the human body, in other words, the adaptations that the body automatically does to that environment, oftentimes just so happen to mimic certain diseases in the human population. So it offers us a way to study some of those diseases much faster and in an easier experimental design type of way. One example of that is osteoporosis - so bone loss would happen in space because of microgravity without some countermeasures that we use. So we can study what works better to counteract that bone loss that would happen without decade long studies that's required on earth to study osteoporosis. Another example of that is kidney disease. We're able to study kidney diseases in ways that we can't on earth," said Koch.

Koch said she participated in a couple hundred experiments during her time, adding that there had been over 3,000 experiments conducted aboard ISS since it started.

"We do experiments across many, many fields of research. So the ISS has been designated a national lab, and typically a national lab focuses on one area, (whether) it's biology or it's national security or technology or something like that. But in ISS, our specialty is microgravity or the space environment, and really any type of science that can benefit from that environment is welcome. And that can be biology, biotechnology, physical science, human research, space and earth science, technology demonstrations. So we do a little bit of everything. We do pharmaceutical development," Koch explained, adding they also partner with companies on research and development projects.

Koch and Meir were recently named to the Time 100 Most Influential People of 2020, recognition signifying her impact on the scientific community.

"We need to make sure we're influencing in the right direction, that we're being thoughtful and dedicated about what we choose to do, how we choose to do it, and the messages that we put out to the world," said Koch, who described it as an "incredible honor."

Koch's hopeful to take part in another mission in the future.

"I definitely hope my space days aren't over. When you come back from space, (you're) is still what we consider an 'active astronaut,' which means we're assignable to a flight mission in the future. And in the meantime, I'm focusing on things like getting my training certifications back up," said Koch.

She's excited about the Artemis mission.

"Even if I weren't assigned to that mission, I'll know the person who is because it's a small group of astronauts. And that alone just excites me to no end. So it's a fun time to even be on the ground for NASA," Koch said.

Koch returned to earth on Feb. 6, and quickly made a trip back to North Carolina.

"I got to go back home to my brother's house and he had an oyster boil for me. And brought a bunch of family in. And we ate a bunch of North Carolina oysters so that was absolutely wonderful," said Koch.
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