NASA Takes Look at the Science Ahead for Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan

By  //  June 2, 2019

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Christina Koch's mission will be longest single spaceflight by a woman

One month after her arrival on the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Christina Koch got word she will stay in space just short of a year, and her colleague Andrew Morgan, who launches on his first flight on the 50th anniversary of the first human Moon landing, also will stay in space longer than the typical six-month mission.

(NASA) – NASA is fine-tuning plans for two extended duration expeditions for astronauts who launch to space this year.

One month after her arrival on the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Christina Koch got word she will stay in space just short of a year, and her colleague Andrew Morgan, who launches on his first flight on the 50th anniversary of the first human Moon landing, also will stay in space longer than the typical six-month mission.

“One month down, ten to go,” Koch tweeted Wednesday morning after receiving the news.

“Today the possibility has become a reality.”

Koch arrived on board the space station March 14, beginning scientific research activities as part of the Expedition 59 crew.

She’s now scheduled to remain in orbit until February 2020, spanning Expedition 59, 60 and 61.

“I still have the grin on my face that won’t seem to go away just that I’m here,” Koch said.

“To walk into the actual reality of the space station, the fact that it actually exists, was like walking into a movie set.”

Her mission will set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, eclipsing the previous mark set by Peggy Whitson of 288 days on Expeditions 50 through 52 in 2016-2017.

Peggy Whitson lived on ISS for 288 days on Expeditions 50 through 52 in 2016-2017.

“It’s an honor to follow in Peggy’s footsteps,” Koch said. “Peggy has been a mentor and a heroine of mine for many, many years. I hope that me being up here and giving my best every day is a way for me to say thank you to people like her, who not only paved the way through their examples, but actively reached out to make sure we could be successful.”

Koch’s planned mission duration will be just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut, 340 days set by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission in 2015-2016.

Koch’s mission will provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman to complement the data from Kelly’s mission. Both represent exciting opportunities for NASA’s Human Research Program and the work to prepare for human missions to the Moon and Mars.

“Astronauts demonstrate amazing resilience and adaptability in response to long duration spaceflight exposure,” said Jennifer Fogarty, chief scientist of the Human Research Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “These opportunities have also demonstrated that there is a significant degree of variability in the responses of humans to spaceflight, and it is important to determine the acceptable degree of change for both men and women.”

The majority of data available is on male astronauts; however, male and female bodies respond differently, and health conditions occur at different rates in male and female populations. Some studies, including one led by NASA researcher Steven Platts, have found that women are more likely than men to experience faintness as a result of ”orthostatic hypotension,” a cardiovascular issue. Men, on the other hand, appear more prone to vision changes caused by spaceflight associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS).

Koch’s mission is an exciting opportunity to gather extended duration biomedical data to enable missions to the Moon and Mars. Although with a different research portfolio than Kelly’s one-year mission and the Twins Study or Whitson’s previous record setting missions, Koch will participate in some studies in which Whitson also participated, including the Functional Immune and Food Acceptability studies.

Scott Kelly also participated in a study on functional immunity. Integrating her extended-duration studies with those of Kelly and Whitson will enable researchers to better understand astronaut adaptability over long periods of space exposure and better support the development of effective countermeasures to maintain crew health.

Several studies planned during Koch’s stay on the station will come from NASA’s international partners. Collaborative research enables NASA and its international partners to develop innovative measures to protect astronauts and mitigate the effects of spaceflight hazards.

Morgan also will have an extended-duration expedition on the station in his career-first spaceflight. He is set to launch July 20 aboard the Soyuz MS-13 with crewmates ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov. NASA selected Koch and Morgan in the same astronaut class in 2013.

“I’ve been preparing for this mission for almost six years, and I’m ready to do what the station program has asked of me,” Morgan said. “I’ve been mentally prepared for the idea of my mission being extended for a little while now, so my family and I are ready to take on this very exciting challenge.”

Morgan is scheduled to return to Earth aboard Soyuz MS-15 in March 2020 with NASA astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka.

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“This is exactly what we’ve trained for,” Morgan said. “Might as well jump into the deep end and do all nine months right up front.”

“Any time you increase the diversity of a pool of folks participating in any of those human research studies, you make the results of those studies more robust,” Koch said. “We’re happy to be participating in those and to get the numbers up.”

Meanwhile, NASA’s Human Research Program continues to lay the groundwork for future one-year missions on the space station and has selected 25 proposals to investigate biological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations to spaceflight. With information gained from the selected studies during future one-year missions, NASA aims to address five hazards of human space travel: space radiation, isolation and confinement, distance from Earth, gravity fields (or lack thereof), and hostile/closed environments that pose great risks to the human mind and body in space.

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