NASA has selected a North Carolina State graduate to embark for space next spring as a crew member on the International Space Station.
Although she was born in Michigan, Koch grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina. She graduated from North Carolina’s School of Science and Math in Durham and later obtained two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s at N.C. State.
Since receiving her master’s degree from NC State in 2001, she’s visited several times and delivered speeches on campus.
NASA selected Koch, among more than 6,100 applicants, as one of the eight astronaut candidates in 2013 for NASA’s 21st astronaut class.
When the class graduated in 2015 it received media attention because it was the organization's first astronaut class in which half of the graduates were women.
Koch has experience in space science instrument development and remote scientific field engineering, according to NASA.
With NASA, Koch has contributed to the development of scientific instruments on several NASA missions. She’s also worked as a “capsule communicator” on NASA’s mission control.
“That’s the person who actually talks to the astronauts throughout their day,” Koch said in interview with NC State in 2015. “It’s a really neat role because we get a window into the life on board of an astronaut in an intimate way. You get to put yourself in their shoes.”
Koch’s career as an engineer has taken her to the most frigid regions on Earth. She spent several seasons in remote research stations in Antarctica, and while there she was a member of the firefighting teams and ocean/glacier search-and-rescue-teams. She’s also worked in research stations in Greenland and Alaska.
In an interview with The News & Observer in 2016, Koch recalled what it was like to work in the South Pole.
“Your breath, obviously you can see it, but you can hear it because it freezes instantly,” she said.
“Your eyelashes get completely frosted over. You can’t wear goggles because they freeze up. You cover everything except for a little slit to see out of.”
Expeditions on the International Space Station usually last about six months.
NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, another member of the NASA’s 2015 class, will follow Koch onboard International Space Station in July 2019, NASA said.
Morgan is an emergency physician in the U.S. Army. He served as a medical team member the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and later on served three years as the battalion surgeon for the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group.