Astronaut Christina Koch will set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman when she completes her 11-month-long mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in February 2020. Her long stay on ISS has to do with NASA’s preparation of human missions to the Moon and Mars.
Koch’s mission will provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman, NASA said.
Her planned mission duration will 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 in 2015-16.
The mission became necessary as the majority of data available is on male astronauts. But male and female bodies respond differently, and health conditions occur at different rates in male and female populations.
With this mission, researchers hope to better understand astronaut adaptability over long periods of space exposure and better support the development of effective countermeasures to maintain crew health.
NASA last month accepted a challenge from the Donald Trump administration to return humans to the Moon by 2024, four years ahead of the US space agency’s earlier set target.
“This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay. And then we will use what we learn on the Moon to take the next giant leap — sending astronauts to Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had said then.
Koch’s stay on the space station will eclipsse the previous mark set by Peggy Whitson of 288 days on Expeditions 50 through 52 in 2016-17, NASA said.
Koch arrived on board the space station March 14, beginning scientific research activities as part of the Expedition 59 crew. She is now scheduled to remain in orbit until February 2020.
“It’s an honour to follow in Peggy’s footsteps,” Koch was quoted as saying by NASA.
Meanwhile, NASA’s Human Research Programme continues to lay the groundwork for future one-year missions on the space station and has selected 25 proposals to investigate biological, physiological, and behavioural adaptations to spaceflight.
With information gained from the selected studies during future one-year missions, NASA said it aims to address five hazards of human space travel – space radiation, isolation and confinement, distance from Earth, gravity fields (or lack thereof), and hostile/closed environments that pose great risks to the human mind and body in space.