AGENCIES, Washington: NASA’s Christina Koch returned to Earth safely on Friday after shattering the spaceflight record for female astronauts with a stay of almost 11 months aboard the International Space Station. Koch touched down on the Kazakh steppe after 328 days in space, along with Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian space agency.
“I am so overwhelmed and happy right now,” said Koch, who blasted off on March 14 last year.
US President Donald Trump congratulated Koch on Twitter. “Welcome back to Earth, @Astro_Christina, and congratulations on breaking the female record for the longest stay in space! You’re inspiring young women and making the USA proud!” he tweeted.
Local Kazakhs on horseback were among those to witness the capsule landing in the snow-covered steppe as support crews gathered around the three astronauts, NASA commentator Rob Navias said. “I’ve never seen this,” Navias exclaimed, reporting that the men stopped to chat with engineering personnel.
Koch, a 41-year-old Michigan-born engineer, on December 28 beat the previous record for a single spaceflight by a woman of 289 days, set by NASA veteran Peggy Whitson in 2016-17.
Koch called three-time flyer Whitson, now 60, “a heroine of mine” and a “mentor” in the space programme after she surpassed the record. She spoke of her desire to “inspire the next generation of explorers.”
Koch also made history as one half of the first-ever all-woman spacewalk along with NASA counterpart Jessica Meir — her classmate from NASA training — in October. The spacewalk was initially postponed because the space station did not have two suits of the right size for women, leading to allegations of sexism.
Ahead of the three-and-a-half hour journey back to Earth, Koch told NBC News on Tuesday that she would “miss microgravity”.