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With record space mission, astronaut Christina Koch inspires women back on Earth

After spending nearly 11 months in orbit aboard the International Space Station, astronaut Christina Koch returned to Earth Thursday, parachuting into Kazakhstan with two crewmates aboard a Soviet Soyuz capsule. Koch set a record for the single longest female stay in space and says the milestones she achieved are a tribute to the pioneering women who came before her. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Her name is Christina Koch. She returned to Earth today after setting the record for the longest female single mission in space, and setting other milestones along the way.

    Amna Nawaz has the story.

  • Man:

    Christina Koch, you're a record-holder.

    She is out, thumbs up, and a huge smile.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    After spending nearly 11 months in orbit aboard the International Space Station, or 328 days, to be precise, Christina Koch, with her two crewmates, parachuted into Kazakstan aboard a Soviet Soyuz capsule early today.

    She returns to Earth as a record-holder, the single longest stay in space by a woman. Scott Kelly holds the overall record for the single longest stay. That's 342 days in space. And Peggy Whitson holds the record for cumulative time in space, 665 days.

    Koch was asked about this milestone moment while still on the space station two days ago.

  • Christina Koch:

    I think some people draw inspiration from milestones and from things that they have seen someone work hard to achieve.

    So, I hope that those two things together, outreach and inspiration, make it worth the talk about these different things that we have had the honor to do.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Last fall, Koch drew international attention, and a trending hashtag, as half of the very first all-women space walk alongside Jessica Meir.

    That was one of Koch's six space walks during her mission. But her walk with Meir only happened after a previously scheduled all-women space walk was scrapped because NASA didn't have enough spacesuits to fit two female astronauts.

    Koch told reporters she hopes her work will inspire an even more diverse group of explorers.

  • Christina Koch:

    Talking about these milestones for women is actually to honor the people that paved the way for us to be where we are today.

    I definitely look forward to a time when demographics are transparent and we don't have any underrepresented groups, but, in the meantime, I think that highlighting this story, it helps us to move towards a world where everyone who has a dream has to work equally as hard to achieve that dream.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Koch, now 41, graduated from NASA's academy program, worked at the Goddard Space Flight Center, and completed NASA's astronaut training in 2015.

  • Man:

    Christina Koch of NASA, the first one through the hatch.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    During her time on the space station, she participated in more than 200 projects, including protein research that could inform cancer treatments, exploring the impact of space on plant biology, and, of course, better understanding the effects of long-term spaceflight on humans, particularly on women.

    That is key, as NASA begins preparing for potential missions to the moon and Mars over the next two decades.

    Before departing the space station, Koch said, although she was ready to return to Earth, she would miss these spectacular views, spending time with her crew, and some fun you can only have in space.

  • Christina Koch:

    It's really fun to be in a place where you can just bounce around between the ceiling and the floor whenever you want.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    She also took a question from an 11-year-old girl in Koch's home state of North Carolina.

  • Girl:

    What advice would you give to a girl my age who wanted to become an astronaut when they grow up?

  • Christina Koch:

    I think the best advice I can give to anyone is to follow your passions, to know yourself, do what you love, and also do what scares you. Do the things that you think might be just outside of your reach, but they intrigue you and they call your name.

    I think that when you achieve those things, you find out what you're capable of.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Colonel Cady Coleman is a former astronaut who flew on two space shuttle missions and spent six months aboard the International Space Station.

  • Catherine “Cady” Coleman:

    You know, we have some women in space. We have some women in engineering.

    And at the same time, I will say that it's still not — it's still not easy to be a mediocre woman engineer, woman astronaut, woman producer, any of those things.

    When we have got big problems here on Earth to solve, you really need a team where you recognize the skills of everybody, especially when they're different than yours.

    There's so many wonderful things going on up there. And I love that there's some attention to it.

    It's easy to look at that person and go, I wonder if this could be me, or I wonder if this could be my daughter?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For the moment, Koch said she's excited to get back to gravity's pull.

  • Christina Koch:

    I live near the beach, and I absolutely love the water, so hopefully going for a swim or a surf or just walking my dog on the beach, feeling the sand, feeling the wind.

    Those are things that you can't really replicate up here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Down here, Koch underwent preliminary medical evaluations and will soon return home to Houston, her reentry to Earth marking a new entry in the history books.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

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