NASA astronaut Christina Koch returns to Earth after record-setting stay in space

Darrell Etherington
NASA astronaut Christina Koch is helped out of the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft just minutes after she, Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, and ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, landed their Soyuz MS-13 capsule in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Koch returned to Earth after logging 328 days in space --- the longest spaceflight in history by a woman --- as a member of Expeditions 59-60-61 on the International Space Station. Skvortsov and Parmitano returned after 201 days in space where they served as Expedition 60-61 crew members onboard the station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Astronaut Christina Koch made the return trip from the International Space Station (ISS) early on Thursday, along with ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov. The three boarded a Soyuz capsule docked at the ISS at around 12:50 AM EST, and had a safe landing as planned at around 4:12 AM EST (3:12 PM local time) in Kazakhstan.

Koch's trip was significant because it set a record, officially making her the U.S. astronaut with the second-longest stay in space with 328 consecutive days at the Station. She's second only to Scott Kelley, who spent 340 days in space, and she's officially the woman with the longest stay in space worldwide, passing fellow U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson's record of 289 days.

As NASA notes, Koch's tour included 5,248 orbits of the Earth, with a total distance traversed of 139 million miles in terms of how far the Space Station traveled during its orbit while she was on board. Koch also spent quite a bit of time outside the station, completing six spacewalks, including the record-setting first ever spacewalk involving all women with fellow astronaut Jessica Meir – and two more all-women spacewalks after that.

Koch and her fellow returning space travellers all appeared to be in good shape upon landing, but will get the standard medical checks common for all returning astronauts before returning home. And Koch's science mission isn't done now that she's back. She's participating in NASA research about long-duration spaceflight that will pave the way for trips further out into the solar system, including the Moon and Mars under the agency's Artemis program.

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