CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Record-setting NASA astronaut Christina Koch is constant her mission to encourage the following technology of explorers.
As a part of a long-duration mission, Christina Koch spent 328 days in space, marking the longest single spaceflight by a girl, and the second-longest after fellow NASA astronaut, Scott Kelly. While aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Koch participated in a wide range of analysis investigations, together with some student-run experiments. She spoke to Space.com about inspiring younger individuals and the way necessary it’s to have interaction with youngsters by some of these experiments.
“In addition to the science we bring back to Earth, and the exploration and discovery, STEM education and inspiration is really important and has such a positive impact,” Koch instructed Space.com. “I think this is one of the biggest reasons why it’s so important to have a human spaceflight program.”
Genes in space
Koch is a giant proponent of inspiring the following technology of scientists and explorers and, as such, participated in just a few key STEM (science, know-how, engineering and arithmetic) actions whereas in space. One such exercise was a sequence of student-designed experiments known as Genes in Space.
Sponsored by Boeing, the Genes in Space analysis program is a nationwide contest for college kids in grades 7-12 that challenges college students to design an experiment utilizing DNA to deal with an actual downside in spaceflight. The profitable pupil’s experiment then will get to fly on the space station.
“Being in space was awesome. I was on board [the ISS] for about 11 months, and with our main mission being science I used to be tremendous excited to assist with the analysis,” Koch instructed Space.com. “I have a couple of experiments that stand out in my mind as being memorable for various reasons and the genes and space is definitely one of them.”
Koch participated within the Genes in Space-6 experiment, which was the first-ever to make use of CRISPR know-how in space, with is a novel gene enhancing instrument. As a part of the experiment, yeast DNA was lower throughout each strands, creating vital harm. Researchers then analyzed how the yeast repaired itself.
One downside to spaceflight is that space radiation can doubtlessly harm human DNA. On Earth, the physique can restore itself by including or deleting DNA bases, and even rejoining the piece with out altering them. However, this has not been studied in microgravity till now.
Koch shared that she was actually excited to be engaged on this experiment as she was “kind of a geek about CRISPR” going into her spaceflight.
“That particular science breakthrough was really exciting, so I did seek out a lot of extra info on it,” she mentioned. “I learned about the students that designed it, I learned about the science itself because I just kind of wanted to have that in the back of my mind as I was following the steps, doing the actual lab work on the bench.”
While on the station, astronauts sometimes work on a whole bunch of experiments so, in keeping with Koch, they do not sometimes get the chance to study any given experiment that far upfront. “We really just try to be good at figuring out something quickly on the fly and being successful in the period of time we have,” she mentioned. “So that the scientists can get the maximum science out of it.”
During extra hands-on experiments, like Genes in Space-6, Koch mentioned that the astronauts work with researchers on the bottom by way of a headset. “An investigator talks to you on a headset the whole time that you’re doing the experiment, and guides you through it,” she mentioned. “They want to have real-time feedback with you (for the more complicated experiments) so there was a camera set up where they could see what I was doing.”
“It was really like working with your partner in the lab, only this time we’re separated by 250 miles of space,” she mentioned.
She additionally defined that one of many enjoyable issues about working in microgravity is that liquids and pipettes do not at all times work as they do on Earth, so the workforce needed to work by some surprising points.
One of the opposite massive STEM-related actions that Christina took half in whereas residing and dealing in space was enjoying with slime]. In 2020, Nickelodeon’s well-known slime was blasted into space as a part of a challenge geared toward getting youngsters around the globe fascinated with STEM.
Koch mentioned that the slime was plenty of enjoyable. “I grew up watching slime on TV, and I never thought that that would be a first in my life, but doing slime in space is definitely one of the highlights of my flight,” she mentioned.
“We had a lot of fun with it, so I hope the kids did too,” she mentioned. “Benefits of space activities come in many different forms — some are purely scientific, maybe technical, and some are hopefully inspirational, so it’s important that we cover the full spectrum to maximize the good that we do up here.”
Koch added that the slime was used to assist youngsters be extra cognizant not solely of human spaceflight but in addition of how issues work in microgravity.
“The perspective that everything we look around and see is normal, really is only normal because it’s what we’re used to, but when you see blobs of slime floating in space and doing strange things, you know that’s normal in microgravity,” she mentioned.
One of the stunning issues about slime was how very in a different way it behaved from water in space. “When you work with water in space, you have to be really careful that its surface tension doesn’t change when it comes in contact with something because it doesn’t really like to stall in a ball,” Koch mentioned.
“Slime, on the other hand, likes to stay as a blob, and you can even bat it around, which was really fun.”
Koch mentioned that each of the substances have their purposes, and she or he hopes the youngsters had as a lot enjoyable with it as she did.
One of Koch’s favourite actions is partaking with youngsters, and she or he says the response she will get from them is at all times attention-grabbing.
“My favorite reaction from students is actually when they’re very underwhelmed because to me, it shows that in their world, spaceflight is so normal that they’re unimpressed by it,” she mentioned.
Koch says that college students are a terrific instance of how numerous backgrounds help progressive ideas and concepts, which the space business wants. She added that partaking with a various number of college students and youngsters is an effective way to make sure that we’ve the engineers, scientists and astronauts of the longer term.
Programs like Genes in Space are an effective way to seize college students’ consideration. Kristoff Misquitta is a kind of college students. He is the present winner of the competition and his experiment, Genes in Space-8 is up on the space station proper now.
Misquitta mentioned that profitable the competition is a really surreal expertise. “I see the space station flying overhead at night, and it looks like a far-off star, and the fact that my work is on the ISS just blows my mind,” he instructed Space.com. “I think that’s a testament to how accessible science has become.”
“I think this program, and my experiment, are part of a larger trend in space that’s making science and just space concepts, in general, more accessible to the public, and it makes me really excited,” he added.
Misquitta mentioned that he discovered concerning the Genes in Space contest by one of many lecturers in his highschool, and it appeared like a enjoyable thought. He was searching for space-related alternatives for college kids to see if aerospace engineering was for him. That’s when he came upon concerning the problem.
“This [contest] came at a pretty formative time for me,” he mentioned. “It was my junior year of high school and so that was the point where I was kind of considering applying to college and then what I would pursue in college.”
“Thanks to the help and mentorship I received throughout the Genes in Space contest, I’m now at MIT hoping to study aerospace engineering, ideally on the space side” he added. “The experience helped solidify my major.”
Misquitta says he hopes that someday sooner or later he’ll have the ability to observe up on his experiment, which he mentioned has helped him lay the foundations for his future profession.
“It’s not just me, other students are going to be able to do so as well through genes and space and other opportunities in the future,” he mentioned. “So, I’m really optimistic about it.”
Misquitta mentioned that as a part of this system, college students are matched with mentors at ivy league faculties within the Boston space, like Harvard and MIT. He added that getting access to these mentors is basically pivotal not just for the experiment the scholar is attempting to develop but in addition for his or her future.
Dr. Katy Martin, program lead for the Genes in Space program, says that the scholars need to submit a proposal very like a grant software, so it helps to show them useful expertise. Each pupil is matched with a mentor, who’s an precise scientist, and so they actually spend plenty of time with them refining the proposals. “Even if they don’t win the contest, this is an invaluable experiment for the students,” Martin instructed Space.com.
“Our one winner is chosen by a team of judges, and we’re looking for both the scientific merit as well as a student who can represent the competition as a whole, and be a role model to other students who are thinking about getting involved in sciences and engineering and our competition as well,” Martin mentioned. “Kristoff is a great example of that.”
Misquitta mentioned that NASA astronaut Megan McArthur carried out his experiment on the space station. He mentioned that he did not have any direct interplay together with her whereas she was in space however did get to observe alongside on how the experiment was progressing by way of the parents on the ISS National lab.
Koch says that the astronauts sometimes talk instantly with skilled researchers, so she did not have any direct interplay with the scholars that designed the experiment she labored on, however did say she was capable of chat with them after returning to Earth.
Making space for ladies
NASA’s subsequent massive human spaceflight program is the Artemis program. Koch is one in every of eighteen astronauts named to this system, which plans to land the primary girl and the following man on the Moon earlier than the tip of this decade. The program additionally goals to land the primary individual of coloration on the moon.
There is rather a lot to do earlier than mission assignments are doled out, however Koch is worked up about what Artemis means for all of humanity.
“To me, what the mission really represents is that NASA is committed to answering humanity’s call to explore,” she mentioned. “We’re an example of how you’re most successful when you take contributions from every single part of the world, and the planet, and humanity. I’m just really proud to be a part of it.”
And variety is a giant a part of that. Koch took half within the first all-woman spacewalk in historical past, alongside fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, throughout her time in space
In order to ensure that NASA and the United States stays on the forefront of innovation, Koch says that it is necessary to make use of the space station to assist encourage and encourage younger individuals to pursue STEM-related fields.
One means to try this is by partnering with corporations like Nickelodeon that convey space station science again to the classroom. Another means is by way of businesses just like the Girl Scouts, for instance, which is partnering with NASA to develop a program that encourages its younger members to consider and spark an curiosity in space.
This summer time, the Girl Scouts despatched three totally different experiments to the space station aboard a SpaceX Cargo Dragon mission. One of those missions might assist make clear how vegetation develop in microgravity, whereas the opposite two experiments concerned ants and brine shrimp. “Tomato seeds, pepper seeds, and lemongrass seeds were chosen because they’re good sources of renewable energy, food, and medicine,” Jordan Dean, a member of Troop 7192, instructed Space.com.
Dean is likely one of the winners who helped design the plant progress experiment. She mentioned she got here up with this experiment “because it could be very useful for future space travelers and astronauts, and so that we can inspire other girls to do things like this.”
Koch mentioned that getting women to stay with STEM packages all through their education is necessary. And that hopefully, some of these packages are useful to that purpose.
“If our country is just gonna stay on the forefront of leading innovation, leading solving some of the world’s biggest problems we have to make sure that we recruit and retain people to study these tough fields and to recognize that when you do commit to that that there are awesome things you can do with it and that those things can really make a difference,” she mentioned.
In addition to her duties as an astronaut, Koch says she is ready to sustain with and proceed to attach with college students. “It’s been mostly virtual but we engage a lot with students, both through a lot of different age ranges, both in classroom situations [and] award ceremonies, a lot of different engagement so to me that’s one of the greatest things about this job and about the opportunity,” she mentioned.
To Koch, residing in space was not solely an opportunity to encourage others but in addition a dream come true.
“I think, overall, flying in space is the dream job: you get to be in a place where you have this amazing perspective on Earth; you get to, you know, carry everyone’s dreams with you in space; hopefully inspire people, and then your day-to-day is doing science and maintenance, ” she instructed Space.com. “And I can’t imagine a better job than that.”
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