NASA’s Christina Koch returned to Earth safely on Thursday after shattering the spaceflight record for female astronauts with a stay of almost 11 months aboard the International Space Station. Koch touched down at 09:12 GMT on the Kazakh steppe after 328 days in space, along with Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian space agency. Koch was sent to space on 14 March last year and she said she was really overwhelmed and happy to complete her journey successfully.
NASA commentator Rob Navias said that the Local Kazakhs on horseback were among those to witness the capsule landing in the snow-covered steppe as support crews gathered around the three astronauts.
Koch, a 41-year-old Michigan-born engineer, on 28 December last year beat the previous record for a single spaceflight by a woman of 289 days, set by NASA veteran Peggy Whiston in 2016-17. Koch also made history as one half of the first-ever all-woman spacewalk along with NASA counterpart Jessica Meir – her classmate from NASA training – in October last year.
The spacewalk was initially postponed because the space station did not have two suits of the right size, leading to allegations of sexism. She will now head to NASA headquarters in Houston, via the Kazakh city of Karaganda and Cologne in Germany, where she will undergo medical testing. Koch’s medical data will be especially valuable to NASA scientists as the agency draws up plans for a long-duration manned mission to Mars.
Koch’s return comes after an advert for a skincare brand ran during an intermission in the American football Super Bowl with a call to “make space for women”.The advert featured NASA astronaut Nicole Stott and saw the company promise to donate up to US$500,000 to the non-profit Women Who Code, which works with young women seeking careers in tech and scientific fields.
The first woman in space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova whose spaceflight in 1963 is still the only solo mission carried out by a woman. Russia has sent only one woman to the ISS since expeditions began in 2000 – Yelena Serova whose mission launched in 2014. Both Tereshkova and Serova are now lawmakers in the Russian parliament, where they represent the ruling United Russia party.