NASA astronaut Christina Koch just spent 11 months in Earth orbit, and she'd welcome a trip much farther afield.
The U.S. space agency is working to land two astronauts, at least one of whom will be a woman, on the surface of the moon by 2024, as directed last year by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. NASA has not yet selected those two spaceflyers, but Koch said she'd definitely answer the call if her name came up.
"Of course, me or anyone in our [astronaut] office would be honored beyond measure to be a part of that mission," Koch said during a news conference on Wednesday (Feb. 12). "Any of us would be ready and honored to accept that mission if it were offered to us."
Koch came back to Earth last Thursday (Feb. 6), wrapping up a historic 328-day mission aboard the International Space Station. No woman has ever served aboard the orbiting lab for a longer continuous stint, and Koch's mission came up just 12 days shy of the American single-spaceflight record, which Scott Kelly set in 2016.
These long-duration missions are designed to help NASA and the international human-spaceflight community prepare for trips to deep-space destinations, especially Mars, which is a six- to nine-month ride away from Earth using current propulsion technology.
NASA aims to put boots on the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s, and the agency plans to use the moon as a steppingstone on that epic journey. The 2024 lunar landing, which is part of NASA's Artemis program of moon exploration, is designed to advance this long-term vision.
Indeed, Artemis aims to establish a sustainable human presence on and around the moon by the late 2020s, a different goal than the flags-and-footprints approach of the Apollo program. This work, in turn, will enable the giant leap to Mars, NASA officials have said.
"It is certainly a very exciting time to be part of the NASA family, when we are looking to go back to the moon, to go in a different way — to go to stay, to go for all and by all," Koch said. "So, it's a privilege to be here at this time."
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Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.