MOSCOW (AP/WOOD) — NASA astronaut Christina Koch, who spent nearly 11 months in orbit to set a record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, landed safely Thursday in Kazakhstan along with two International Space Station crewmates.
The Soyuz capsule carrying Koch, station Commander Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, touched down southeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, at 3:12 p.m. (4:12 ET).
Koch wrapped up a 328-day mission after her first flight into space, providing researchers the opportunity to observe the effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman. The study is important since NASA plans to return to the moon under the Artemis program and prepare for the human exploration of Mars.
Koch smiled and gave a thumbs-up as a support team helped her out of the capsule and placed her in a chair for a quick post-flight check-up alongside her crew mates. Russian space officials said they were in good shape.
Before departing the International Space Station, Koch reflected on being a trailblazer in the industry.
“For me it’s just all about the honor I feel to follow in the footsteps of my heroes and hopefully I can make it about paying homage to them,” she said. “They’re the ones that paved the way for us to all be where we are today and also I look at it as an opportunity to hopefully inspire the next generation of future explorers. I know for me it was important to see people that I saw a reflection of myself in growing up when I was envisioning, you know, what I could do with my life and what my dreams might be, so the idea to maybe be that source of inspiration for someone else is just such an honor and I hope to carry that forward even when I’m back on earth.”
Koch, who was born in Michigan and grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and now lives near the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, Texas, with her husband, Bob, told The Associated Press last month that taking part in the first all-female spacewalk was the highlight of her mission.
“The space walk with Jessica Meir was just an unbelievable honor,” Koch said. “There were times when we looked at each other, for example right when we came out the hatch, we caught each other’s eye and we knew that we really were honored with this opportunity. To inspire so many and just hearing our voices talk to mission control, knowing that two female voices had never been on the loop, solving those problems together outside, was a really special moment.”
Parmitano and Skvortsov spent 201 days in space.
After preliminary medical evaluations, the crew will be flown by Russian helicopters to the city of Karaganda in Kazakhstan. Koch and Parmitano will then board a NASA plane bound for Cologne, Germany, where Parmitano will be greeted by European space officials before Koch proceeds home to Houston.
Skvortsov will be flown to the Star City Cosmonaut Training Center outside Moscow.
— News 8’s Lynsey Mukomel contributed to this report.