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NASA says Christina Koch will spend 328 days in space



 There will be a lot of pizza nights for Christina Koch, NASA's newest extended-stay astronaut.
Enlarge / There will be a lot of pizza nights for Christina Koch, NASA's newest extended-stay astronaut.

NASA

On Wednesday morning, NASA announced that Christina Koch, who is already living on the board of the International Space Station, will extend her mission to 328 days. By doing so, she will become the second astronaut in the space agency to spend nearly a year inside the orbiting laboratory.

"It feels awesome," Koch said in a video interview from the station. "I have known that this is a possibility for a long time, and it's really a dream come true, to know that I can continue to work on the program that I have so highly valued my whole life, to continue to contribute to that, to "

Koch launched to the station on March 1

4, along with Aleksey Ovchinin and Nick Hague. As a result of the schedule adjustment, she is now expected to remain on the orbit until February 2020, when she returns to a Soyuz spacecraft with NASA astronaut Luca Parmitano and cosmonaut Roscosmos Alexander Skvortsov. By doing so, Koch will set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, surpassing the 288 days NASA's Peggy Whitson spent in space from 2017 to 2018.

Her mission will almost match the length of NASA's Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days in space from March 2016 to March 2016. Although it was not 365 days, it was enough for NASA to market Kelly's flight as a "One Year Mission." By contrast, Koch's flight is being described as "extended" on board the station, where increments typically last about six months. Another NASA astronaut, Andrew Morgan, will also spend about nine months on the station, from July 2019 to next spring.

Health effects

Whatever it is called, Koch's stay in space should be enough for NASA to collect additional data. About the threats of long-term flights are astronauts' health and performance. An exhaustive study of Kelly and his twin Mark, who remained on Earth, raised some troubling concerns about DNA damage and cognitive decline during a long-term flight.

With the third and fourth US mission extending beyond 250 days, NASA scientists have They said they hope to better understand these threats and how the human body can adapt and respond to microgravity challenges. Researchers also hope to devise counter-measures to the effects of weightlessness so that astronauts visiting other worlds, such as Mars, are healthy when they reach the surface.

These concerns have led some experts in the field of spaceflight to say that NASA should find better or faster ways to send humans to Mars, instead of the current six-to-nine-month trip using existing technology. Some have posited that NASA should devise a spacecraft that can produce artificial gravity, although the agency currently has no projects in this area.

To this end, NASA has recently restarted a nuclear-thermal propulsion program at its Marshall Space Flight Center. A faster trip would mean less time in space and exposed to unweightedness and deep-space radiation, as well as healthier astronauts both for their exploration activities and later in life after they return to Earth.


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