NASA announced that astronaut Christina Koch will break a space record of the longest continuous spaceflight by a woman which is currently held by astronaut Peggy Whitson. As of now, she holds the record with 288 days but Koch who went to the space with Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin will be staying in the orbit for 328 days. She will return back to Earth in the month of February 2020. Though she will not be breaking the record set by astronaut Scot Kelly of the longest continuous spaceflight at 340 days.
Doctors are quite excited by this announcement as they will be able to learn a lot from it. During her time in space, Koch will monitor the changes taking place in body. It will provide researchers with the much needed valuable data of dangers of spaceflight and how well can human bodies cope with it. This data has been quite difficult to obtain as space flights usually last for six and a half months, but only few astronauts have been able to stay more than 200 days in one spaceflight. This situation presents a problem to NASA, as they aspire to send human beings to Mars within a decade, which is spaceflight lasting for six to eight months in each direction. Koch’s journey in the orbit of Earth will be able to inform us of the hardships of such long spaceflights and how differently male and female bodies react to the changes.
It is significant to note that till date, only three NASA astronauts have been able to remain in space for a continuous 200 days. They are Scott Kelly who holds the record at 340 days, Peggy Whitson, 289 days and Michael Lopez-Alegria at 215 days. It is interesting to note that Soviet Union and Russia combined have sent a dozen men on spaceflights for more than 200 days.
About 12% of the astronauts on spaceflights have been women, hence this mission will provide a more profound understanding of how gender differences affect the response of the body. A coincidence is that this updated flight schedule was announced just a week after the Twin Study was published. This revealed how cells of genetically identical individuals differed in responses, when one brother was in spaceflight and the other on Earth.
Koch will be taking part in several projects such as VECTION for studying how the vestibular system processes the movements of individuals in gravity. Besides this, there will also be experiments checking the stiffness of muscles, elasticity, ability of the brain in controlling blood flow.
Scientists want large sample size of astronauts for spaceflight studies, but since it is not possible they want to utilize the data from every individual who makes long stays.