Christina Koch has a(n out-of-this) world record in her future.
NASA on Wednesday (April 17) said that Koch, who launched to the International Space Station on March 14 for an expected six-month mission, will not return to Earth until Feb. 6, 2020. After 328 days in orbit, Koch will have logged the single longest spaceflight by a woman.
“It feels awesome!” said Koch, reacting to the news from on board the space station in a video released by NASA. “I have known that this was a possibility for a long time and it is truly a dream come true to know that I can continue to work on the program that I have valued so highly my whole life.”
“To be able to contribute to that and give my best every day to that for as long as possible is a true honor and a dream come true,” she said.
Koch’s mission is planned to be just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut — 340 days, set by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission from 2015 to 2016. Her mission will collect more data about the effects of long-duration spaceflight beyond those documented on the more typical six-month expeditions.
It will also enable another record to occur — the first spaceflight by a United Arab Emirates (UAE) astronaut.
Koch will be part of three expeditions — 59, 60 and 61 — during her current first spaceflight. She arrived at the space station on Russia’s Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft with cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin of Roscosmos and Nick Hague of NASA to join the Expedition 59 crew of Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, NASA astronaut Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency.
Kononenko, McClain and Saint-Jacques are scheduled to return to Earth on June 24, as Koch, Ovchinin and Hague begin Expedition 60. On July 20, Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano will launch to the space station on Soyuz MS-13, returning the space station’s contingent to six people.
Then on Sept. 25, UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri, together with cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos and astronaut Jessica Meir of NASA, will launch on Soyuz MS-15. Skripochka and Meir will become members of Expedition 61, serving alongside Koch, Skvortsov, Morgan and Parmitano.
Al Mansouri, flying under a spaceflight participant contract with Roscosmos, will spend only 8 days on the space station before returning to Earth with Ovchinin and Hague. Al Mansouri will fill the seat on Soyuz MS-12 that Koch used to ride up to the space station for his journey home.
Koch, together with Skvortsov and Parmitano, will come back on Soyuz MS-13 on Feb. 6, 2020.
Morgan, Meir and Skripochka, who will begin Expedition 62, will stay on the space station through March 31, 2020. Morgan will also complete an extended mission of 255 days in orbit.
Koch’s and Morgan’s longer duration missions are essential to future deep space missions to the moon and Mars, said NASA. The flight schedule also permits the agency to get the most time dedicated to other research on the station, as U.S. commercial crew launch providers Boeing and SpaceX prepare to begin Starliner and Dragon operarational flights, respectively, to and from the orbiting laboratory.
Koch’s record for a single mission by a woman will surpass the 288 days logged by astronaut Peggy Whitson in September 2017. Whitson, who retired from NASA in 2018, retains the records for the most cumulative time in space by an American astronaut and woman worldwide at 665 days.
The world record for the single longest mission by any space explorer, man or woman, is held by cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who spent 438 consecutive days aboard Russia’s former space station Mir from January 1994 to March 1995. Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka holds the world record for the most cumulative time in space at 878 days over the course of five missions.