Speaking of North Carolinians who deserve some recognition, as we were yesterday, former Jacksonville resident Christina Hammock Koch is about to make history as part of the first all-female NASA spacewalk crew.
A native of Michigan, Koch grew up in Jacksonville. She graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham in 1997. Then she attended N.C. State in Raleigh, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 2001, a bachelor’s in physics and a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 2002.
She was selected by the U.S. space agency in 2013 and completed candidate training in 2015. The training involved such activities as learning how to fly jets and wintering in Antarctica.
So, obviously, she’s tough.
She’s currently working far above the Earth on board the International Space Station. With concurrent missions that began in March, she is expected set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman with an expected total of 328 days in space. (Retired astronaut Scott Kelly holds the record for NASA’s longest continuous spaceflight at 340 days.)
In the meantime, she’ll pair up for a spacewalk on Oct. 21 with fellow astronaut Jessica Meir. It won’t be the first time a female has “walked” in space — floated weightlessly outside a space vehicle inside of a space suit — but it will be the first time the two-person crew will both be women.
By that time, Koch will already have taken part in similar missions with male crew members.
Astronauting is intense, demanding, exacting work, even when floating weightless above the world. Until Elon Musk gets his way, they won’t let just anybody go up there.
Spacewalks are generally technical in nature. Koch and Mier will be plugging in new batteries on the space station’s exterior. The mission should take about seven hours.
Koch was supposed to go spacewalking with another female crewmate in March. But, as was revealed to some consternation, there weren’t enough medium-sized spacesuits on board the ISS at the time. The walk had to be rescheduled.
The delay led to some laughs — and some criticism about the expectations NASA had for its female astronauts. Some saw this as another sign of women being held back in the workplace.
But there’s little doubt it was actually a simple logistics snafu. Women have been going into space since Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. They’ve more than proved their worth since then, serving not only as astronauts, but as mission commanders.
NASA’s deputy chief astronaut Megan McArthur says the all-female spacewalk will be a milestone and worth celebrating.
Local space fans will probably be doing just that. Spacewalks can be followed live on NASA TV.
On Aug. 30, NC State University and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics held a live video Q&A with Koch, who was wearing an NCSSM alumni T-shirt.
“I know when I look down on North Carolina, it inspires me up here,” she said.
We can’t help feeling a little pride, knowing that North Carolina’s educational system helped to set Koch’s path into space.
She’s not the only astronaut to come from here and, odds are, she won’t be the last. With renewed American interest in going to the moon, and beyond, we’ll need more like her.