On April 3, NASA announced Christina Koch will be one of four astronauts to crew the Artemis II mission. Not only will this be the first time space travel has brought us to the moon since 1972, but Koch will be the first woman to ever orbit the moon.
However, this won't be the first time she makes history. She also took part in the first all-female spacewalk and set a record for the longest spaceflight by a woman. In her role as mission specialist on Artemis II, Koch will continue to inspire women worldwide, and most notably at her alma mater, NC State.
In 2002, Koch graduated from the University for the third time after acquiring a bachelor’s degree in both electrical engineering and physics, as well as an master’s degree in electrical engineering. As a student, she also participated in research under John Blondin, professor and associate dean for research in the physics department at NC State.
“I study supernova explosions, and she was taking a course in electromagnetism, how magnetic and electric fields evolve,” Blondin said. “So, I suggested that she come work for the summer and write some code into my supernova simulation that would track magnetic fields, which to most people would sound really daunting, but even then she was just fearless.”
That fearlessness has undoubtedly led Koch to seek out challenges without second guessing her intelligence.
“[Some people] question whether they have what it takes to succeed,” Blondin said. “But she never questioned her abilities and I think that’s an important life trait, is to trust yourself and challenge yourself. As a student at NC State that's how she lived and that's how she was named to the Artemis mission.”
Since her recruitment to NASA in 2013, she has been involved at NC State and in reaching younger students all across the state. While aboard the space station in 2019, she participated in a virtual Q&A event catered to K-12 students.
According to Blondin, Koch has been an incredible advocate in reaching young women and inspiring their interest in science.
For women in STEM at NC State, the importance of having Koch in this influential and powerful position can’t be understated. Not only does it prove that women can, and have, worked to put themselves in the field of space exploration, but it serves as an example that women can be at the forefront in any STEM field they may be pursuing.
Koch’s particular interest in reaching younger women plays a key role in fostering positive and encouraging mindsets around science. When girls are taught that they belong in any field, they find it interesting rather than focusing on how outnumbered they will be, and their approach to STEM in higher education is entirely reshaped.
Encouragement from a woman who has spent her whole life in a male-dominated field and succeeded will help those who hope to do the same carry themselves with a bit more confidence — both in themselves and in knowing that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
Women may be historically outnumbered in most STEM fields, but in the words of the first woman to fly in space, Valentina Tereshkova, “a bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women.”
Tereshkova’s words apply beyond space exploration and are true of each and every scientific career. Women in STEM at NC State look to Koch as a reminder that success in a male-dominated field is attainable and it is worth the effort to persevere.
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