Astronaut Christina Koch, six days after returning from a record 11-month stay aboard the International Space Station, said Wednesday she's re-adapting to gravity with no major problems. She said she's enjoying family life, a trip to the beach, playing with her dog, and a kitchen packed with chips and salsa, a favorite food in short supply aboard the station.

"I feel great," she told reporters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "I'm really fortunate. A lot of people ... when you're re-adapting to one G (gravity) on Earth, you might experience some motion sickness and things like that. I'm really fortunate in that I have not experienced that. What I have noticed is that my balance has taken a little while to get used to."

She also has experienced a bit of soreness in muscles that she didn't use as much in weightlessness, including a sore neck for about a day that made her feel "like a 2-week-old, actually working hard to hold up my own head." But overall, she added, "it's been a pretty easy transition."

In an interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell, Koch was humble about her place in the record books.

O'Donnell asked, "Do you look at yourself as a trailblazer?"

"Sometimes I joke that having the longest record for time spent up there is really just about not defying the law of physics because I didn't necessarily have a ride home I could have hopped on," Koch said.

"The grit and the stamina that you possess ... where does that grit come from?" O'Donnell asked.

"I used that exact word, grit. It's the idea to come back to it, to keep trying, regardless of what the challenges are along the way," Koch said. "I actually credit one person, and that's my grandmother. My grandmother is an incredibly hard worker ... They were farmers. And so I always like to think that I'm hopefully making her proud."

"It's just fun to interact with people again"

 

Along with the physical sensations of living once again on the surface of a planet, pulled down by the unfamiliar tug of gravity, Koch said she marveled at the "sensory experiences that define Earth and the things that are here."

"Within the first two minutes of being back on Earth, I saw more people's faces that I had seen in a year," she told reporters in Houston. "So that was really exciting. It's just fun to interact with people again."

And then there were the chips and salsa. Before leaving the space station, Koch mentioned in an interview that she was particularly looking forward to the crunchy, spicy snack after a previous crewmate, who had ordered a modest supply of salsa, departed.

"I was really lucky because I had a couple people provide gifts, so I came home to a kitchen full of chips and salsa, which was really exciting, even some homemade salsa from some of my neighbors. So it was really neat to see that people had kind of honed in on that. The little things in life on Earth that we all take for granted are kind of the special things that I got to come home to."

Including her dog, LBD.

"We call her LBD, little brown dog. She's from the Humane Society and she couldn't be sweeter," Koch said. "And yes, she was very excited, I was very excited, I'm not sure who was more excited! ... You know it's just a symbol of coming back to the people and places that you love, to see your favorite animal.""

Koch, who holds a master's degree in electrical engineering, was launched to the space station March 14, 2019. Shortly after she reached the lab complex, NASA managers announced they were extending her mission, in part because of delays launching U.S. commercial crew ships being built by Boeing and SpaceX.

During her stay aboard the station, Koch participated in six spacewalks totaling 42 hours and 15 minutes. She and astronaut Jessica Meir carried out the first all-female spacewalk last October 18, replacing a faulty solar array battery charge controller. The two women carried out two more joint outings on January 15 and 20 to complete battery replacement work that was started last year.

Koch returned to Earth with Soyuz MS-13/59S commander Alexander Skvortsov and Italian flight engineer Luca Parmitano on February 6, landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan to wrap up a flight spanning 328 days 13 hours and 58 minutes, the longest single space voyage by a female astronaut or cosmonaut.

Her flight covered 5,248 orbits and 139 million miles and was just 12 days short of the U.S. single-flight endurance record set by former astronaut Scott Kelly. She now ranks No. 7 on the list of most experienced NASA astronauts and 50th in the world.

But she said, "My biggest hope is that it's exceeded as soon as possible. That means we're pushing the boundaries, more people are living up to their dreams and their potential. So my main message to anyone who has a dream is to follow your passions. Be true to yourself, do what you love and live the life that you've imagined for yourself."

NASA is currently is focused on sending sending the first woman and the next man to the surface of the moon by the end of 2024. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said those initial moonwalkers will be selected from NASA's current pool of astronauts who have lived and worked aboard the International Space Station.

Koch said she would happily go if called upon.

"A mission like that would be such an incredible honor," she told O'Donnell.

First published on February 12, 2020 / 6:14 PM

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