On Wednesday morning, NASA announced that Christina Koch, already living aboard the International Space Station, will expand her mission to 328 days. By doing so, she becomes the space agency's second astronaut to spend nearly a year within the orbiting laboratory.
"It feels great," Koch said in a video interview from the station. "I have known that this is an opportunity for a long time, and it is truly a dream that is right to know that I can continue to work on the program that I have rated so much throughout my life, for continued contributing to the good as possible as long as possible is a real honor and a dream comes true. "
Koch was launched to the station on March 1
Her mission will almost correspond to the duration of NASA's Scott Kelly who spent 340 days in space from March 2016 to March 2016. Even though it was not 365 days, it was long enough for NASA to market Kelly's aircraft as a "one-year mission". In contrast, Koch's flight is characterized as an "extended" stay aboard the station, where increments typically last for about six months. Another NASA astronaut, Andrew Morgan, will also spend about nine months at the station, from July 2019 to next spring.
Whatever its name, Koch's stay in space should be far enough for NASA to collect additional data on long-term flight threats on the astronaut's health and performance. An exhaustive study of Kelly and his twin mark that remained on the ground raised some worrying concerns about DNA damage and cognitive decline during the long-term flight.
With a third and fourth US mission spanning 250 days, NASA researchers have said they hope they can better understand these threats and how the human body can adapt and respond to the challenges of microgravity. Researchers also hope to devise countermeasures against the effects of the scales so that astronauts who visit other worlds such as Mars are healthy when they reach the surface.
These concerns have led some space experts to say that NASA should find better or faster ways to send people to Mars, instead of the current six to nine months of using existing technology. Some have argued that NASA should devise spacecraft capable of producing artificial gravity, even though the Agency currently has no projects in this area. Others have said that the journey needs to go faster, with better progress.
To this end, NASA has recently re-launched a nuclear propulsion program at Marshall Space Flight Center. A faster ride would mean less time in space and exposed to weightlessness and deep space radiation as well as healthier astronauts both for their exploration activities and later in life after returning to Earth.