Christina Koch, an astronaut from North Carolina, gave a talk at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Saturday, January 30 and Sunday, January 31. Koch came to speak as part of the Museum’s “Astronomy Days”, a weekend filled with presentations and activities related to astronomy and space.
Koch began her talk by explaining how she had wanted to be an astronaut since she was a kid living in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
“When I was a girl…I loved things that made me feel small. I loved the night sky, I loved the ocean, I loved anything outdoors…anything that made me actually think about the vastness of the universe,” said Koch.
To follow her interests, she attended the North Carolina School of Science and Math where she was faced with a whole new environment. “My main memories from Science and Math [were] just being pretty intimidated. Everyone around me was really smart, they were from fancy places like Charlotte and Raleigh, but this [was] kind of the first time I got a taste of something that I’ve tried to hold onto, which is using intimidation or feeling scared to actually fuel your success and to turn it around and use that as motivation to achieve what you might not have thought was possible before.”
After attending the NCSSM, Koch went to North Carolina State University where she double majored in electrical engineering and physics. While attending NC State, Koch was an intern for NASA, which lead her to a job at NASA in the Department for High Energy Astrophysics. She then transferred to a position as a cryogenics technician in Antarctica. Koch worked as a technician for a year, and then transferred to another position on Antarctica, for a total of a year and a half on the continent.
After working in Antarctica, Koch went back to working for NASA as an electrical engineer, where she invented more science gadgets that were launched into space, but eventually, Koch decided to go back to working in remote places.
“I thought ‘Alright, it’s time. I’m going to go back to working in these remote places and I’m going to kind of take it to the next level’ so I started working this time in the Arctic, and I worked at a place called Summit Station in Greenland. It’s named Summit because it is literally at the summit of the Greenland Ice Cap,in the very middle of the country [with] nothing around…professionally I was loving it, I had awesome science to contribute to, I had my wide open spaces, I had my physical challenges and my professional challenges with the job that I did for research and so I was very happy. And I also developed more of my fascination with–and the hobbies towards–auroras,” said Koch.
Koch went on to work in other remote places such as Alaska and American Samoa. It was in American Samoa that Koch learned she would be an astronaut. Koch completed astronaut training in June of 2015. Training includes survival school, learning to fly a supersonic jet,learning Russian and more. According to Koch, the hardest part of astronaut training was having to swim a lap in a pool in full flying gear.
Throughout the presentation, Koch showed the audience many pictures she has taken of her experiences, including pictures of the aurora in Antarctica and Greenland. At the end of her talk, she played a video of what keeps her motivated to continue preparing to go to space–the aurora as seen from the space station.