Christina Koch has come back down to Earth after a record 328 days in space—the longest mission of any female astronaut in history.
Koch touched down on an icy steppe in Kazakhstan on February 6. She will now make her way to NASA headquarters in Houston, Texas, where she will undergo medical testing. Seeing how Koch's body fared in space for nearly 11 months will inform current plans for a manned mission to Mars. It has been proven that staying in a microgravity environment for long periods of time leads to bone and muscle loss, and researchers have been working on ways to mitigate those effects for long space missions.
According to CNN, Koch spent much of her time in space conducting experiments. She also completed six space walks during her mission, including the first all-female space walk with fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir. (In case you missed it, that much-anticipated space walk had to be temporarily postponed due to not having the proper sized space suits for the two women. The walk was completed successfully in October 2019.)
The previous space mission record for a woman was 289 days, set by U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson in 2017.
Koch says there are some thing she will miss about being in space. "Sleep in space has been some of the most restful I've ever had—no hotspots, no tossing, no turning, never too hot or too cold," she said, according to CNN. "I just float in my body's natural position. How will I sleep when I return to Earth?"
It will take time to readjust to the weight of her own body and to objects dropping to the ground again. However, there are definitely things Koch is looking forward to experiencing again. Before ending her mission, she said:
"Oh, how I miss the wind on my face, the feeling of raindrops, sand on my feet, and the sound of the surf crashing on the Galveston beach. We take daily sensory inputs for granted until they are absent. The environmental inputs on the space station consist mostly of the constant hum of the ventilation system. It stirs the air, allowing the purification system to scrub and clean our atmosphere so it's breathable. While some places on the space station are as loud as a lawn mower, others are as quiet as the vacuum of space. I cannot wait to feel and hear Earth again."
NASA shared a video of Christina emerging from her space capsule and getting her first glimpse of Earth from the ground in almost a year:
Welcome home, Christina Koch! We salute you as a space trailblazer and an inspiring example for young female scientists everywhere.