Science

Christina Koch Returns to Earth and Makes History

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NASA astronaut Christina Koch works on the ISS on space botany research, cultivating and harvesting lettuce and mizuna greens for consumption on the International Space Station and analysis on Earth. Photo: NASA, April 25, 2019

NASA astronaut Christina Koch returned to Earth on February 6 after spending 328 days on the International Space Station (ISS).

Koch set a record for the longest continuous spaceflight ever made by a female astronaut.

Astronaut Scott Kelly spent 340 days on the ISS in 2015/2016. It was the longest time a male NASA astronaut has spent in space. Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov holds the record for the longest continuous spaceflight ever. He spent 437 days on board the Mir space station in 1994/1995.

Koch set another record while she was on the ISS. She took part in the first all-female spacewalk, along with astronaut Jessica Meir, on Oct. 18, 2019. (see TKN story: First All-Female Spacewalk https://teachingkidsnews.com/2019/10/20/first-all-female-spacewalk/)

Now that Koch is back on Earth, doctors and scientists will be studying her to find out how living in space for such a long time has affected her health. They will compare that information to data they have collected from Scott Kelly after his year on the ISS.

Scientists already know that men and women react differently to spending time in space. For example, women are more likely to feel sick when they first go into space; men are more likely to feel sick when they come back to Earth.

The lack of gravity on the ISS can lead to changes in an astronaut’s vision and eye health. So far, 82 per cent of male astronauts have been affected by eye problems compared to 62 per cent of female astronauts. The most serious eye problems have all occurred in men.

Radiation in space can also make people sick. Women are affected by it at a much higher rate than men, but doctors don’t know why.

NASA is planning to launch more long-term space missions in the future—to the moon or even to Mars. Before they can do that, they need to understand how space travel affects a broad range of people.

Scientists will compare the medical information they collect from Koch with what they have already learned from studying Scott Kelly. This may help them answer some of the questions about how women and men are affected by space travel, and how to make it safer and healthier for all astronauts.

THINK AND DISCUSS

In one column, list the things in the article that we are told about female astronauts; in a second column, list the things we are told about male astronauts. What other information do you think NASA will collect about male and female astronauts?

In what ways are humans affected by long-term space travel?

Describe, in point form, details of the all-female space walk.

LINKS

Christina Koch answers questions about her time in space:

On the Space.com website: Women in Space: https://www.space.com/16143-women-space-firsts-gallery.html