Astronaut from North Carolina launches toward history


    Christina Koch launched toward the International Space Station and history Thursday. On March 29, Koch is scheduled to join Anne McClain during the first all-female spacewalk in history. (Photo credit: NASA)

    At 3:14 p.m. Eastern Time (Pi time on Pi Day), Christina Koch launched toward the International Space Station and history aboard the Soyuz MS-12 Spacecraft from Kazakhstan.

    She was joined by fellow astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Alexy Ovhinin on the relatively short six and a half hour flight before docking with the ISS around 8:45 p.m.

    On March 29, Koch is scheduled to join Anne McClain during the first all-female spacewalk in history.

    In an interview last month, Koch credited her upbringing in rural Jacksonville, North Carolina, as one of the reasons she became interested in space.

    "Growing up in Eastern North Carolina was a beautiful place, and I count that as one of the many reasons I became interested in things like space and exploration," Koch said. "The ocean, obviously, is a beautiful thing in North Carolina that we have was one of our treasures and, of course, N.C. State and all the opportunities there."

    According to her NASA biography, Koch studied at N.C. State for her bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and physics before getting her master's degree in electrical engineering.

    Koch is exciting for the experiments she'll be conduction aboard the ISS.

    "For some of the medical experiments we actually get to participate as subjects," she said. So, we're looking at some of the effects of micro-gravity on long duration space fliers to inform our study of future mars mission design, so that's exciting and, of course, as a physicist and electrical engineer, I'm very excited about a lot of the physical science experiments we'll be doing."

    Fittingly, March 14 is also Dress For STEM, wear purple on Pi Day. Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields wore purple to draw attention to the need for more women in STEM careers.

    At PARI (Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute) in Brevard, the education team is always looking for new ways to inspire youths to become interested in science.

    They hope Koch's contribution to NASA and space exploration will help inspire the next generation.

    "The thing we’re most excited about is we’ve got an astronaut from North Carolina going to the International Space Station and is going to be up there for a while," said Tim Delisle, field studies officer at PARI. "That’s a really exciting thing for us here, and we work with a lot of kids who come to our site and are always looking for that inspirational figure that they can reach out and say that’s what I’m going to do one day."

    The Redstone Rocket Engine housed at PARI. (Photo credit: Pisgah Astronomical Research Institue)


    PARI houses a Redstone Rocket Engine, which another woman important to NASA's history worked on, Katherine Johnson. Her contributions to the Mercury program were highlighted in the 2016 film "Hidden Figures."

    Delisle hopes Koch's contributions help bring to light the many women who contributed to the history of space science.

    "One of the things we see get ignored a lot when we look at the curriculum that gets taught to kids about space science and just the types of inspiration and role models is that, a lot of times, the contributions of women to the field get left out, and having something like this happen, hopefully, will start to change that," Delisle said.

    Koch was selected by NASA in 2013 out of a list of more than 6,100 applications. She has been training for this mission for five years.

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