A NASA astronaut has set a new record for time spent in space, and she still has six weeks to go before she returns to Earth.
Christina Koch has surpassed the record for the single longest space mission by a woman as previously established by NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson in 2017. The 40-year-old Expedition 61 flight engineer exceeded Whitson’s record of 289 days, 5 hours and 1 minute on Saturday (Dec. 28) at 6:16 p.m.
“Having the opportunity to be up here for so long is truly an honor,” said Koch. “Peggy is a heroine of mine and has also been kind enough to mentor me through the years, so it is a reminder to give back and to mentor when I get back.”
Koch launched to the space station on March 14 on what was expected to be a typical six-month mission. Then her stay was extended by NASA, in part to collect more data about the effects of long-duration spaceflight. She is now slated to land on Feb. 6, 2020.
In addition to servicing NASA’s science goals, Koch said she feels that milestones like hers helps increase outreach and inspires.
“Outreach, because it gets the conversation going about the state of the art, where we are in human exploration. And inspiring, because I think as a milestone it can motivate people,” she said. “It also motivates me, because on those rough days I remind myself that, ‘You know, this hasn’t been done before, it makes sense that it is hard.’ It makes sense that I have to dig deep sometimes.”
This is the second record that Koch has set during what is her first spaceflight. In October, Koch and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir became the first two women to perform a spacewalk together.
“I think that highlighting it was the first all-female EVA, [or] spacewalk, is important because seeing those milestones be broken tells people where we are at and where we think the importance lies,” said Koch. “I think it is inspiring because future space explorers do need to see people who remind them of themselves.”