NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch to become first woman to orbit the moon

Christina Hammock Koch, who will serve as mission specialist on NASA's Artemis II mission next year, will become the first woman to orbit the moon. Photo courtesy of NASA/Twitter
Christina Hammock Koch, who will serve as mission specialist on NASA's Artemis II mission next year, will become the first woman to orbit the moon. Photo courtesy of NASA/Twitter

April 3 (UPI) -- NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch -- a flight engineer on the International Space Station and record-holder for the longest single spaceflight by a female -- will become the first woman to orbit the moon next year when the space agency launches its Artemis II mission.

Koch's name was revealed Monday as a member of the four-person crew of astronauts from the United States and Canada who will journey around the moon. Koch, who was assigned mission specialist, will be joined by Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen and NASA astronauts G. Reid Wiseman and Victor J. Glover Jr., who will become the first person of color to orbit the moon, NASA and the Johnson Space Center announced Monday in Houston, Texas.


"When I first found out I was assigned to Artemis II, my thoughts were disbelief, an immense sense of honor and responsibility, and readiness; ready to try to make everyone proud and to really fulfill what this mission truly means to all humanity," Koch said in a NASA video Monday.


Koch, who became an astronaut in 2013, grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, before going to North Carolina State University. Koch earned bachelor of science degrees in electrical engineering and physics, as well as a master of science degree in electrical engineering. In 2019, she spoke to NC State graduates from the International Space Station.

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"Don't think there's just one way to accomplish your dreams or a set of boxes you have to check through life," Koch told graduates. "Live your life according to your interests and passions."

Koch participated in the NASA Academy program at Goddard Space Flight Center in 2001, after working as an electrical engineer at GSFC, and was selected in 2013 as one of the eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class. She completed astronaut candidate training in 2015.

"To me, there's never really been a time when I didn't want to be an astronaut. Going back as far as I can remember, it's what I always dreamed of," Koch said Monday.

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Koch served as ISS flight engineer during Expedition 59, 60 and 61. In 2018, she was assigned to her first space flight, which was a long duration mission on the International Space Station. Koch launched on March 14, 2019, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Soyuz spacecraft and returned to Earth on Feb. 6, 2020, setting a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman and the second longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut after retired astronaut Scott Kelly. Koch spent a total of 328 days in space, prompting her to post a video of her rescue dog's enthusiastic greeting when she finally returned home


During her missions to the ISS, Koch also took part in a total of six space walks, including the first all-female spacewalk, which NASA initially canceled because it did not have enough woman-sized space suits. Koch ended up wearing one of the medium-sized spacesuits and doing the walk with male astronaut Nick Hague.

"Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, Koch will wear it," NASA said in March of 2019.

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Last week, Koch tweeted about how common it is to now see multiple women at the International Space Station.

"Why's this matter? To me, it's making more successful missions and a world where people with a dream work equally hard to reach that dream. Here's to my own astro sisters!" Koch wrote Friday with the hashtag "womenshistorymonth."


While at the ISS, Koch and her crew members contributed to hundreds of experiments to learn more about Earth and physical science, biology, human research and technology.

In 2019, Koch posted a photo of Ghana's national flag in space as she reminisced about her time spent in the country two decades ago.

"20 years ago, I was studying abroad at the University of Ghana. Like spaceflight, it was a positive, life-changing, perspective-deepening experience," Koch wrote.

A year later, Koch helped Nickelodeon debut its first footage of the children's cable network's iconic green slime in space. Koch and another crew member were able to spin the slime in mid-air and adhere it to a paddle board. While there was no gravity, they were not able to pour it over each others' heads.

"Playing with slime in space is way more fun that I thought it would be -- and way more unpredictable," said Koch. "Just like all of the other science we do, you cannot replicate these experiments on the Earth, you need zero gravity to see some of this behavior."

Koch faced angry flat Earth theorists when she shared her last photo of Earth in a 2020 tweet as she returned from the International Space Station, to which some replied "fake pic" and "nice fake curvature."


And Koch continued to share her photos from her missions, including a starry night Van Gogh-like photo from a composite image she captured at the International Space Station.

"City lights, stars, lightning storms, even satellite flares -- a composite of individual photos stacked on top of each other to show all the amazing things we see at night out our window."

While Koch will orbit the moon as a member of the Artemis II crew in 2024, another unnamed crew is expected to land on the moon in 2025.

On Monday, Koch said she is looking forward to working with the other Artemis II crew members.

"They all have a military background and I come from a more raw technical engineering background and I think that that complements one another really well," Koch said. "I think we'll work together great and I hope to be someone on the crew that really is that engineering expert and I hope that that can be the way I contribute the most."


Looking further into the future, Koch said she'd love to be chosen for a mission to Mars, even though she'd miss her husband and her family.

"For Mars, I'd ask my family and friends to make small surprises for me to open on designated dates," she said in an interview in 2016. "A handwritten card when you've been away 15 months can be the best thing imaginable."

NASA names Christina Hammock Koch 1st woman to launch to moon

Expedition 59 crew members, including NASA's Christina Hammock Koch (C), Nick Hague of NASA (top) and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos wave farewell before boarding the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft for launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 14, 2019. The crew spent 6 1/2 months living and working aboard the International Space Station. NASA Photo by Bill Ingalls/UPI | License Photo

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