It's been a long trip for NASA astronaut Christina Koch. This week, the record-breaking astronaut will return to Earth after living and working in space for 328 days — the longest single spaceflight made by a woman (opens in new tab).
Today (Feb. 4), Koch spoke to the media about her space experience, including what it means to have broken a spaceflight record and made history on the first all-female spacewalk (opens in new tab) with her colleague, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, last October.
"For me," Koch told NBC News from the International Space Station (opens in new tab), "it's all about the honor that I feel to follow in the footsteps of my heroes." Koch added that, she also looks at these milestones that she's reached for women in spaceflight "as an opportunity to hopefully inspire the next generation of explorers."
Koch launched to the space station (opens in new tab) on March 14, 2019 and will return to Earth early Thursday (Feb. 6) on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft (opens in new tab)alongside crew mates Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov.
Video: Peggy Whitson sends zero-G congrats to Christina Koch's record (opens in new tab)
Related: Women in space - A Gallery of firsts (opens in new tab)
A couple of the media outlets asked if she thought that the milestones she reached in space were as big of a deal as we made them out to be on Earth, and whether or not it mattered that she was a woman setting those records.
"I definitely look forward to a time when demographics are transparent and we don't have any underrepresented groups," Koch said. But, she added, "highlighting this story helps us to move towards a world where everyone who has a dream has to work equally hard to achieve that dream."
Related: The amazing spacewalks of Expedition 61 in photos (opens in new tab)
While Koch is looking to the future, she also had some wisdom so share about her time spent in space.
Koch shared that, in addition to the moment she first entered the hatch and saw the space station, her favorite moment in space was on that first spacewalk with Meir. (The two have since performed two more spacewalks together (opens in new tab).)
There was a moment, Koch said, just after she and Meir had first left the station and were holding onto a handrail, when they caught each other's eye. They had a moment of recognition for what they were accomplishing, she said.
Koch also pointed to how amazing it was when, while riding the Canadarm2 robotic arm during the spacewalk, she was able to take a look at Earth down below.
Following the historic first all-female spacewalk made by Koch and Meir, the two continued on to complete both the second and third all-female spacewalks in history.
Following almost a year setting these records and working tirelessly in space, "I'm definitely looking forward to being on the same planet as everybody else pretty soon," Koch told NBC News about her return to Earth. Following this mission, which has been chock-full of historic moments and important scientific research, Koch shared that she is excited to continue her career with NASA.
"You never know," she said. "Maybe another spaceflight's in my future."
NASA plans to first return humans to the moon with the Artemis program (opens in new tab) before landing the first humans on Mars (opens in new tab), Koch told Westwood One Radio Network that she would absolutely accept an offer to fly on a crewed mission to Mars in the future.
"If that were something that were offered to me it would absolutely be my honor," she said.
Visit Space.com Wednesday and Thursday (Feb. 5 and 6) for complete coverage of Koch's return to Earth. NASA's webcasts will begin Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT) with Soyuz MS-13 hatch closure, then resume for undocking at 12:15 a.m. EST (0515 GMT) and at 3 a.m. EST (0800 GMT) for landing.
The Soyuz landing in the remote steppes of Kazakhstan is scheduled for 4:14 a.m. EST (0914 GMT).
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