NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch have just made history by conducting the first all-female spacewalk outside of the International Space Station on October 18.The spacewalk, lasting for 7 hours and 17 minutes, made them also the 14th and 15th women to spacewalk since the first woman, the Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, who walked in 1984.This was the fourth spacewalk for Koch and the first for Meir.
For Koch, it was the fulfilling of a dream that she started fostering from the age of 5, few may know it. When she said that she wanted to be an astronaut, none would have taken it seriously too. But, now many of her teachers and friends are recalling it.
Christina Hammock Koch, selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2013, completed astronaut candidate training in July 2015. Koch graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Physics and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering. She has been working onboard the International Space Station as part of Expedition 59, 60 and the current Expedition 61 scheduled. Koch is slated to set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman with an expected total of 328 days in space.
A native of Michigan, she grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina and most recently resided in Livingston, Montana. She is married to Robert Koch. Koch enjoys backpacking, rock climbing, paddling, surfing, running, yoga, community service, photography and travel, according to her biography.
But many of her admirers may not know that two things inspired her most on her journey to be an astronaut.
“Outside of my family, I was always inspired by true heroic stories of leadership and survival. For example, the story of the Shackleton expedition, when their ship became lodged in the Antarctic ice pack while exploring. Also, the stories of the student activists of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, and everything they endured and accomplished fighting for equality,” she revealed in one her interviews before.
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, one of the heroes of Koch, was an Irish-born British explorer who was a principal figure of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. In 1901, he joined an expedition to the Antarctic. He was sent home early due to bad health, but he came back and led the Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Disaster struck when his ship, the Endurance, was hit by ice. He and his crew drifted on sheets of ice for months until they reached Elephant Island. Shackleton eventually rescued his crew, all of whom survived the ordeal. He later died while setting out on another Antarctic expedition.
The civil rights movement, another inspiration for Koch, refers to the struggle for social justice during the 1950s and 1960s to gain equal rights for the blacks in the United States. It finally became successful with the blacks getting equal rights and voting rights. The movement was led by the `Big Six’, including Asa Philip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer Jr., and John Lewis.
Koch’s fellow astronaut Jessica Meir was selected by NASA in 2013. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Brown University, a Master of Science in Space Studies from the International Space University, and a Doctorate in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography (UCSD).