NASA Astronaut Christina Koch and her husband, Bob Koch, discuss Christina’s path to becoming an astronaut

March 8, 2019

Resident Extreme

“Houston We Have a Podcast” is the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, the home of human spaceflight, stationed in Houston, Texas. We bring space right to you! On this podcast, you’ll learn from some of the brightest minds of America’s space agency as they discuss topics in engineering, science, technology and more. You’ll hear firsthand from astronauts what it’s like to launch atop a rocket, live in space and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. And you’ll listen in to the more human side of space as our guests tell stories of behind-the-scenes moments never heard before.

NASA Astronaut Christina Koch and her husband, Bob Koch, discuss Christina’s path to becoming an astronaut—her childhood in North Carolina, her education, and her work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and in remote locations all around the world—as she gets ready to make the first spaceflight of her career. This episode was recorded on December 20th, 2018.

Transcript

Dan Huot (Host): Houston, We Have a Podcast.  Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center Episode 82, Resident Extreme.  I’m Dan Huot and I’ll be your host today.  If you’re new to the show, we bring in NASA experts to talk about all different parts of our space agency.  And sometimes we get lucky enough to bring in astronauts to talk about their story.  So today we’re talking with Christina Hammock Koch.  She’s a U.S. Astronaut who is about to launch to the International Space Station in March 2019 for her very first space flight.  We talked about her education study in electrical engineering in physics.  Her time at NASA Goddard in Maryland studying astrophysics and her experience living in some of the most remote places in the world including Alaska, Greenland, American Samoa, and Antarctica.  She’s no joke.  So with no further delay let’s go light speed and jump right ahead to our talk with Christina Koch.  Enjoy.

[ Music ]

Host: I’m glad we could pull you out of the final months of training for a couple of minutes.  I know life has got to be hectic.  What have you been up to lately?

Christina Koch: Yeah, thanks.  Thanks for having me.  It’s my honor to be here.  I have been back in Houston training for about three weeks now and when I’m back here I’m mainly working on space station systems training, space station emergency training, track and capture training for grabbing the visiting cargo vehicles when they come using the robotic arm and training on medical stuff.  So making sure I can help out my crewmates when the time comes.

Host: So at this point you’re so close to launch, do you just have a calendar on the wall where you’re x’ing off the days and then there’s one written like “Launch”, circled real big?

Christina Koch: Mentally I do have a little bit of a list in my head.  Yesterday I did happen to notice that it was exactly one month until I leave for Russia for the last time for the launch.  So it’s an exciting time and yes, we have a Google Calendar actually with the date marked.

Host: And I should mention we have Bob Koch with us today.  He’s going to be hanging out.

Bob Koch: How are you guys doing?

Host: We’ll get with you Bob in a little bit.  I want to kind of go through Christina’s early life a little bit.  We want to see kind of the Behind the Music, Behind the Astronaut.  How you got to where you are today.  So where were you born?

Christina Koch: I was actually born in western Michigan, in Grand Rapids Michigan, and I grew up in eastern North Carolina.

Host: OK, and so you kind of moved around all over the place.  Did you live anywhere else?

Christina Koch: Actually growing up I was pretty stable.  We lived in the same town in North Carolina for many years and it wasn’t until I graduated from college that I started kind of exploring the world a little bit more.

Host: And I was just looking through just some of the places you have been.  You have been everywhere.  You’ve been kind of all over the place.  So where did you go to college?

Christina Koch: Went to college in North Carolina, North Carolina State University and that’s in Raleigh.

Host: OK, so you kind of stuck close to home and then after that it was just like, you know, completely out the window.  You’re going everywhere.  What was — do you remember like the first time you left the country?

Christina Koch: I do, actually the first time I ever left the country I was I went to Australia to visit an aunt that lived there.  So that was definitely eye opening.  And then I saved up my money in college and I took a vacation to Scotland during one of my summers.  And then after that my next trip I think was my study abroad in Ghana and West Africa.

Host: What were you studying in college?  Everybody we always hear the same questions, you know, what did you do to become the astronaut?  What should I go study to kind of be in your shoes?  What did Christina do?

Christina Koch: Well, I was really passionate about physics and electrical engineering so that’s what I studied.  I think everyone should follow sort of what they love, not necessarily what they think, you know, if you want to be an astronaut not necessarily what you think NASA wants you to study but definitely what you love.  And that’s what drew me in.  I chose physics because I love the theoretical aspects of kind of how the world works and all the cool sounding things like quantum mechanics.  And then engineering was just a way to kind of bring it down to Earth and get a chance to design things, being in a lab bench, makes things with my hands.  You know, I grown up working with my dad in his shed and I just loved tools and creating things.

Host: Was there any kind of moment you think in your life, you know, the young kid sees the guitar in the window and grows up to the be the rock star.  Anything that you did that kind of laid the path to be an astronaut?

Christina Koch: You know, I was fascinated with space from the time I was really young.  I always used to say I liked things that I made me feel small.  I liked the ocean.  I liked the night sky.  And so that sort of adventurist, exploration, kind of interest led me to want to sort of explore the world.  I did a lot of reading travel magazines as a kid.  But I don’t know exactly when the moment happened because even in my small town there weren’t even necessarily engineers that I ever saw.  So I’m not really sure how I got it into my head.  It might have been a trip down to Kennedy Space Center with the family, but I just know it’s always been there.  And you know the choice to be an engineer, like I said, was just it sounded really awesome to me.  Not necessarily because I even knew what that meant when I was, you know, 16 years old and making those decisions.  But based on what I was good at and what I liked to do, it definitely was the right path for me.

Host: So you got the engineering bug early on and you did that throughout college.  And so you said you did a study abroad and you were in Ghana.  What was that like?

Christina Koch: Ghana was an incredible experience.  It gave me a lot of perspective.  It taught me that what I had come to know as normal wasn’t necessarily normal everywhere.

Host: Very different than North Carolina.

Christina Koch: Very, yes.  I did a lot of African studies.  I got to have a drumming class underneath a tree behind a certain building.  So those were my classrooms when I was there and it was an amazing experience.  I traveled a lot there.  I learned a lot about myself and I learned to be comfortable in situations that weren’t, you know, what I was used to.  There was no Walmart to go to there when you needed something.  You had to kind of make it happen.  Transportation, getting around, everything was different.  And learning to adapt and learning that I could adapt was a real confidence builder as well as a perspective builder.

Host: And then so you go through that and then you’re done with college.  What was kind of the first step out of college?  So when you were in college did you know what you were going to do when you graduated college?  Because I know so many people who are just like, “I don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.”

Christina Koch: I was lucky.  I knew I wanted to work at NASA and I had had a summer internship in a group at Goddard Space Flight Center doing high-energy astrophysics instrument design.  And I was fortunate enough that when I graduated they wanted to hire me full time.  So I went to work there and from that point on my career just, that was sort of the launching point.  I also had had an interest all along in Antarctica.  I had posters of Antarctica up on my walls when I was a kid and it was again, just in this vain of exploration and science on the frontiers.  And so after two years of my job as an engineer with NASA, I ended up searching out and getting lucky enough to land a job working at the South Pole for a year.  So that was kind of the first two years post college for me.

Host: So this is something that kind of always blows me away at NASA.  I have a very vivid memory of being over in Kazakhstan one time for a Soyuz Mission and were’ just sitting there eating breakfast and four of the six people at the table had been to Antarctica.  And I don’t know about a lot of you but it’s very rare to meet even one person in your lifetime that’s been to Antarctica and we seem to have a whole bunch of them hear at NASA.

What is it about Antarctica that kind of draws people to it and what is the parallel that we keep seeing with what we do with space flight?

Christina Koch: There are many parallels and I agree there’s a lot of Antarctic folks here.  I would say kind of just the harshness of the environment and the mental and physical kind of fortitude that it takes to be successful somewhere like that, coupled with the science that you can do in that unique environment.  So it’s really a great analog.  There are scientific reasons why it’s an analog.  For example, people looking at how to build a Lander for Europa go and test it in certain parts of Antarctica in the frozen, you know, under frozen ice lakes there.  So there’s physical analogs and then there’s just, you know, the mental analogs as well.

Host: Do you guys have like an Antarctic book club here at NASA?  I mean there’s enough of you.

Christina Koch: There is enough of us, no we chat about it a lot.  No book club yet.  Good idea.

Host: So you’re doing some engineering stuff and some — where you doing any of the — because you’re also a physicist, where you doing any of the more high minded astrophysics work at NASA?

Christina Koch: You know, the jobs I had down there were similar to kind of the astronaut job where you’re not the researcher running the research program, or you’re not the principle investigator, but you’re the person on the ground, the eyes and ears running the experiment and kind of having to know enough about it to be useful in that role and also to just enjoy tinkering and making things work in a harsh environment when they don’t always want to work initially.  So I was what’s called a research associate.  I also dealt with a lot of cryogenics.  The telescopes of the South Pole were cryogenics, actually, to have their detectors cold enough to detect the really faint signals that they’re looking for.  So even a place as cold as the South Pole we still use cryogenics and that was a program I was in charge of.  So I ran geophysical labs for researchers that weren’t there and just a really wide variety of different types of experiments.

Host: You couldn’t just open the window, cool off the telescope?  It wasn’t —

Christina Koch: No, our motto was “South Pole cryo, when the South Pole just isn’t cold enough.”

Host: How cold did it need to be?

Christina Koch: Those experiments got down to like the temperatures of liquid helium, which would be like four degrees above absolute zero, so yeah, four kelvin.

Host: All right, so a little bit colder than it was outside.

Christina Koch: Yeah, a little bit colder than the minus 100 Fahrenheit on the station.

Host: [laughs] All right so after Antarctica where did the path take you?  Where were off to after that?  Hopefully somewhere warmer.

Christina Koch: Yeah, I didn’t quite make it to somewhere warmer right away, but I did return to space science instrumentation.  I worked as a space scientist instrument designer at the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University working on NASA missions.  So I had the opportunity to kind of do more team design of space science instruments, which was really exciting.  I had a couple launches.  I have an instrument that I was a part of team for at Jupiter right now, one orbing the Earth studying radiation.  And then after that the bug called again and I returned to remote science work and this time was able to kind of expand and incorporate work up in the Arctic.  So I got some seasons wintering in Greenland, as well as the northern coast of Alaska.  And then finally to another remote station that’s in that same network of science bases that as in American Samoa.  Finally got somewhere warm.

Host: I was going to say so then you went to Greenland so you just kind of have thing for being in the middle of nowhere it seems.

Christina Koch: I do enjoy the challenges.  Like I talked about, small crews is always a really interesting environment.  Just learning how to thrive with a small group of people.  Getting to know people really well, having them feel like you’re family and then getting to do really neat science all along, those challenges.  You know, and the seasonal, working seasonally, so having time off to do some of my outdoor hobbies, I’m between seasons working in those places.  The overall lifestyle, incorporating science and those opportunities was really great.

Host: Are there many outdoor hobbies you can do in Antarctica or Greenland?

Christina Koch: There are.  In many of the places there, obviously cross country skiing is one that comes to mind, but our jobs day to day are very very demanding.  So I talked about how I love rock climbing, well I used to get to climb towers to work on instruments at the top of these instrumentation towers and I loved soldering irons up towers and soldered in minus 40 degree weather fixing things, hanging off the tower with, you know, carabiner gear and things like that.  So just the job itself kind of scratched the itch of outdoor adventure.

Host: So this astronaut stuff is just going to be easy, right [laughing]?

Christina Koch: I don’t know about that, no it’s presented plenty challenges, plenty new challenges and opportunities.

Host: All right well we finally got you somewhere warm.  You’re in American Samoa.  What were you doing there?

Christina Koch: I was working at another remote research base.  This particular network of bases was a climate research station famous for measuring what’s called the Keeling Curve, so the C02 overall atmospheric rise of C02.  These climate stations have to be in remote places because they’re designed to measure the baseline of our atmospheres.  So they can’t be affected by, you know, human sources of any of these things that we’re studying so —

Host: Cars driving down the street and stuff, yeah.

Christina Koch: Exactly, yeah.  So really remote places, so American Samoa is like maybe 500 miles south of Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific and there’s prevailing winds there so we stuck, or NOAA suck a station on the kind of upwind end of the island and has been studying the climate there.

Host: And that’s where you met Bob.

Christina Koch: It is.  I was very lucky I met Bob, my husband there.

Host: Bob, what were you doing there?

Bob Koch: I was working as a contractor for the government and I was head of the geospatial program for the Samoan Department of Commerce.  And so I was there on a two year contract, you know, similar type of mission trying to accomplish something somewhere unique and travel somewhere and do some interesting work.

Host: Do you remember how you guys met?  I don’t know how personal we want to get but like did you guys — were you climbing a carabiner and you happened to be, you know, next in line to come up with tools or something?

Christina Koch: Actually no, but it’s funny you mention that because there is a funny story that happened later where Bob is a football fan, and I’m not necessarily a football fan but I am a rock climbing fan.  And there was a big Super Bowl party one day that I skipped to go rock climbing with the other rock-climbing rebel of our friend group.  So we didn’t always necessarily do everything together, but we met at a Halloween party actually.

Bob Koch: Yeah, met at a Halloween party and Christina had worked on the most remote place of a remote island and on her commute to work, which as about like 45 minutes to an hour.

Christina Koch: Yes.

Bob Koch: Across the whole entire island.  She passed one of the best surf breaks on the island.  So as soon as I learned that I started asking her to send me videos or surf reports so I wouldn’t have to drive an hour across the island to find out.

Christina Koch: Yes.

Bob Koch: And so we had to teach Christina how to calibrate her wave forecasting and wave reporting.

Christina Koch: Yeah, a new job duty of mine, not only monitoring the climate but monitoring of the swell, the surf state.  So yeah, I got lucky there.  I happened to work next to a surf break that Bob was interested in knowing more about.  So he had to keep in touch with me.

Host: Yeah, well what else is there to do when you’re kind of out in the remotest places on planet Earth?

Christina Koch: So much to do in American Samoa.  Lots of outdoor adventure.  I mean —

Bob Koch: Well you would call it Peter Pan Island, right?

Christina Koch: Yeah, exactly.  It was a beautiful place where you can just imagine both mountains and the ocean available.  So a lot of paddling, hiking, scuba diving, surfing obviously.  I wasn’t a surfer yet at that point but Bob was really big into the surfing.  So just tons of adventure.

Host: Well, then it became time for the ultimate of adventure, becoming an astronaut.  When did you frist decide?  I mean were you just kind of scrolling through the Internet some day and say, oh you know, I’ll click on this job application and give that a shot.

Christina Koch: Right.  I had heard about the call for astronauts in 2009 but at that point I was working at the job still doing space science instrumentation at the Applied Physics Lab.  I felt, sort of looked at my collective experience and didn’t feel like I was quite ready to present myself to this program that, you know, I had loved for so long.  I didn’t feel like I quite accumulated the amount of experience I wanted to.  So I held off on applying that year.  But then in 2011, there was another call and again I looked at my accumulative experience and I thought, I’m ready, I’m ready to sit across from people at a table and tell them that I can contribute to this program.  So I was actually in Barrow Alaska by myself and you know, in the house working outside near the station I worked at there and got together my online application and hit Submit.  I was 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle at the time and I thought I would never hear anything back from them.  It was just, you know, I though that was it.

Host: And that was your — you only applied once?

Christina Koch: That’s correct.

Host: You were a first timer.

Christina Koch: Yes, I was very fortunate.

Host: A lot of astronauts have stories of perseverance of the NASA rejection letter.  So you, that extra experience obviously paid off.  And so you were selected in 2013 and you have been here ever since.  What’s — I mean, what’s the astronaut life like?  Oh no, before we get to that I’m skipping ahead.  There’s the all important call.

Christina Koch: Oh yes, the call.

Host: So what was the process like to go through to becoming an astronaut?

Christina Koch: It was a neat process.  I actually traveled to Houston for both of my multiday on site interviews at NASA from American Samoa and like Bob knows, only two flights leave American Samoa per week.  So it was no small feat just getting back here, back to the states.  Bob was really supportive.  He got some friends together before my interviews, made me cards, made sure that everybody was rooting for me back home in American Samoa.  And then when the call came, a lot of people tell the story that as soon as they heard the person on the other end of the line they knew whether it was the good call or the bad call because they were kind of in on knowing that.  I actually hadn’t — I wasn’t kind of didn’t have that insiders information so I had no idea.  And I just assumed it was going to be the rejection call.  So as soon as the person started talking I immediately launched into my speech of “Thank you for the time.  It’s been a great honor.”  And they actually had to stop me.  It was Janet Kavandi, and she said, “Wait no, I’m calling to tell you I want you to join our team here in Houston.”

And I was so baffled that I couldn’t speak.  I didn’t answer.  I just stopped talking and she said, “Hello?”  [laughs], and eventually I regained my composure and finished the conversation with her.  But as you know, they ask you not to tell too many people.  So the other neat thing about the call is because the time difference, it came in at 6:00 in the morning, so it actually woke me up.  And so I was kind of out it during the call and on top of that wasn’t allowed to really talk to anyone about it.  I would have told Bob, but actually that week he had a big talk coming up at work and so I thought, well let me not, you know, enter too much of a distraction here.  So by the end of the day, the end of the work day of the day I received the call in the morning, I was almost wondering if it had really happened.  Was that — you know, was that a dream?  So I remember getting back from work that day and checking the little Post-It note next to my bed and I had scribbled some notes and so I thought, “OK, that really happened.”  [laughs].

Host: I can’t imagine keeping a secret like that from people.

Christina Koch: Yeah it was a lot to take in all at once.  It took me an hour before I started crying about it.  I was actually on my way to work when it kind of hit me.  And then, you know, I just sort of processes it during the day and it was in some ways kind of nice to have that news to yourself and just kind of think about what it’s going to mean for you in your life before you start to share it.

Host: And so Bob, how did you finally find out?

Bob Koch: Well, yeah I remember the night that she finally told me, and you know, a couple, a lot of emotions, you know, came over me.  I was so proud, so excited.  I was also like, wow this is a big secret.  You know, that a big one to keep.  And I was like, “OK, I guess we’re heading to Houston.”

Host: Had either of you been to Houston before?

Christina Koch: No.  Never saw ourselves here necessarily.  Just, you know, had never had a chance to live in this part of the country.

Host: Probably way more people in the immediate area than it sounds like you’re used to.  So I hope you’ve adjusted —

Christina Koch: A little busier than American Samoa, yeah.

Bob Koch: It’s definitely a contrast.  It was getting off a plane in the middle of the night from a remote island and then landing in the middle of Houston is a pretty interesting experience.

Host: The surfing at Galveston is not nearly as good as either.

Bob Koch: Yeah, I definitely explored the YouTube video catalog while I was in American Samoa and had to —

Christina Koch: Come to terms [laughing].

Bob Koch: Yeah, I came to the realization that I was going to have to readjust my expectations for surfing.

Christina Koch: Yeah.

Host: And so what was it like kind of adjusting back?  Because was this kind of your first time back in real civilization for a while and Bob, probably for you too if you were out there for a couple years?  What was it like to kind of get back into the swing of things in a city life?

Christina Koch: Yeah, big adjustment.  I had been working in different places for about three years and when I came back Bob still had a year on his contract in American Samoa.  So by the time he got back he had been working abroad for two years.  When I picked him up from the airport I made sure to wear cowboy boots and big cowboy hat to welcome him back to his new life [laughs].  But, you know, it was not only adjusting back to just a regular culture, you know, in the hustle and bustle of a big city, but interestingly we both ended up making adjustment to a new workplace culture because previously we have both been more in a research oriented academia type of work and both of the jobs that we ended up finding back in the states had more of a military culture and a military aspect to them.  Bob can tell you more, but he works that the Army Corp of Engineers, and me here at NASA with the big part of the cadre being former military.  So we would exchange a lot of notes on, you know, different things we would find about the culture.  You know, even just simple things like how you compose an email and your communication styles.  We would sort of compare notes on that and help each other out.

Host: And I have here you’re the stewards of a 120-year-old home.

Christina Koch: That’s true.

Host: It is haunted?

Christina Koch: Well —

Bob Koch: Not yet.  We have a couple names — the Little John residence.

Christina Koch: Yeah.

Bob Koch: And it does have a unique history and you know, it’s a lot of work but it’s a labor of love and it’s been a really exciting thing to be a steward of such a unique property while living in the area.

Christina Koch: Yeah, something that really ties us to Galveston and to the area knowing that we’re kind of caretakers of this home.  It’s a storm survivor home.  So it survived the Great Storm of 1900, which is one of the biggest natural disasters in the history of this country and so, you know, we enjoy working on that kind of as a collective project.

Host: All right, well what’s kind of been the ASCAN life for you now transitioning into the ready to fly astronaut?  So what was the ASCAN training like for you?

Christina Koch: Well, I kind of termed it, you know, like learn five careers in two years training flow.  You know, learning how to fly and kind of the piloting aspect of it.  Learning space walks.  Learning a new language.  Learning the systems of the International Space Station and learning how to control the robotic arm.  All of those things are almost, could be a career in of itself.  So jokingly I used to say that my job was to learn something new and be bad at it for a while.  Because the truth is, you know, we all came — the people in my class came from different backgrounds.  We had different strengths with different areas that we weren’t strong in because of the skill set we brought in.  So you really had to get comfortable with learning something completely new and even if it wasn’t something that your experience had brought to you from your past life, being comfortable with taking it on and really embracing it, so you know, just learning all of those new things.  I always I also say that it would have been really amazing to see like an MRI of my own brain as it expanded during this time because it was really a fortunate situation.  You know, most people mid-career, mid 30’s, don’t have the opportunity to suddenly take a U-turn and start to have to learn a completely new career field.  So to just one prove that that’s still possible and that there is still all this room for growth even when you’re midcareer, where you know some people might be kind of like settling down into a career path, we were actually asked to step it up.  So that was a really neat experience.  And then since ASCAN it’s just been a series of interesting additional trainings, finally giving back, having a round job contributing to the program and then finally being really fortunate and getting a flight assignment.

Host: Was there anything you found kind of the most difficult?  A lot of times I hear it’s learning the new language.

Christina Koch: Yes.

Host: Especially if, you know, you’d only ever spoke one before.

Christina Koch: That was definitely a challenge for me.  You know, when people ask me what are some — what’s something you can highlight as almost not a failure, but a real challenge that you could use an example to inspire people that might be, you know, meeting difficulty in something they love doing.  And I did not take — my Russian training was very difficult for me.  I actually ended up having a couple different Russian instructors.  I think I might have been the special child where they were really working on me, making sure that I had the teaching and learning style that I needed for my thick brain for languages.  But I got through it and now I absolutely love Russian.  I’ve been training almost completely in Russia since the start of this year and I really feel confident in my Russian language.  I absolutely love speaking Russian.  I seek it out at any opportunity.

Bob Koch: And as I said, when we were traveling through Moscow and I went out to visit in the summer, I was just blown away about how well you were communicating with everybody and I just felt totally comfortable going into a restaurant and you were just communicating with anybody.  And yeah, it’s pretty amazing to see how quickly you picked it up.

Christina Koch: I like what you said after you watched me in training where, you know, the people during a Soyuz sim, talking to — you know guiding us through the training and all the displays and everything, you know —

Bob Koch: Yeah it’s one—

Christina Koch: Yeah.

Bob Koch: It’s one thing to order, you know, dinner at a restaurant in Russian, but it’s another thing to learn instruction on the Soyuz and Russian and that to not only absorb the information but regurgitate it.

Host: Yeah.

Bob Koch: I remember thinking to myself watching her, I was like, I will never complain about not being able to do something again.  And it just was pretty inspiring to be honest with you.

Host: You haven’t picked up Russian On Tape to help her practice yet?  You got time.  Bob, you got time.  All right, well you got assigned the mission, the mission is coming up soon.  It’s coming up real soon.  What’s it been like — so you’ve been over in Russia a lot, you’ve been here, you’ve been kind of all over the world.  What’s it been like to kind of — have you gotten to go anywhere new you haven’t gone before as part of your training?

Christina Koch: Russia was the new spot.  I hadn’t been there before the training.  And then the other spot would be the European Space Agency.  I got to go there but I have been there before so that was really nice to see them again.  And yeah, it’s been a incredibly humbling experience learning the Soyuz.  Originally I was training before the flight changes after Nick and Aleksey’s launch.  I was training as the copilot of the space craft so that involves just really learning every system in a lot of depth and having a lot of simulation events with your Russian commander.  So very intense training there that I absolutely love.  My engineering brain was just happy as a clam.  But also adjusting to not being home as much, really trusting in Bob.  He had the whole home front kind of on lock and just being able to trust in that so that I could fully focus on what I had to over in Russia was awesome.

Host: So, I mean the mission is coming up really soon.  What are some of the kind of the final things that you guys have to do?  I know there’s — it’s almost like going back to school, you have to go through your final exams again.  I mean is that the first time since college you had to be in kind of a testing environment?  With instructors staring you down.

Christina Koch: Well a couple things about that.  One the astronaut candidate process really prepared me for the idea of being evaluated.  I joke all the time that a typical work day for me could include people, you know, eight people following me around with a clipboard as I, you know, perform some kind of a task.  So the evaluation is nothing new at this point.  The different style in Russian is very interesting.  All of our exams in ground school are oral exams.  So getting asked questions in Russian by a committee of ten people is definitely different but a challenge that I got used to and could come to enjoy.  But the final preparations really for us are kind of unique because we are learning to work together as a new crew.  So I joined Nick and Aleksey when they were put into this flight slot and they’ve both been really welcoming.  I’ve had a chance to do Soyuz sims with Aleksey, as well as some Russian segment International Space Station sims and then of course Nick and I are astronaut classmates.  So we know each other really, really well.  We’ve been training forever.  He actually was the first person I ever was in a Soyuz with when we had one of our very first familiarization trainings with the Soyuz, you know, five years ago.  It just so happened to be that I was paired with Nick.  So it’s kind of neat to see how far we’ve come.  But really just learning that crew and kind of making sure everything is buttoned up at home.  Working a lot with Bob on the trip, the launch trip and yeah, ducks in a row.

Host:Have you ever been to Kazakhstan, Bob?

Bob Koch: No, this will be my first time.

Host: This will be your first time.  Have you heard anything about it yet?  Are you looking forward to it?

Bob Koch: Well, I guess being that the launch is at the end of February and March, it’s going to be pretty cold out.

Host: Yeah, bring your coat.

Bob Koch: Yeah, we’ve just been prepping for the weather, you know, coming from Texas and going there is going to be quite a contrast.  But yeah, I just want to take it all in and I’m really just excited for to watch Christina launch and it’s just, it’s just so exciting.

Host: Have you seen a rocket launch before?

Bob Koch: No, I have not.

Host: So this will be your first one.  First time you see a rocket launch will be when Christina is on it.

Bob Koch: Yeah, and the range of emotions when you see the roll out and I’ve seen some pictures.  There’s a great Instagram follow that Christina put me on that has a lot of great PR over there.  And it just kind of gave me a good idea of what to expect and so yeah, super exciting and I’m really looking forward to it.

Host: Yeah, definitely bring your coat and there will be some astronauts along that will help get you through it and they all speak fantastic Russian just like Christina, so they’ll help you out anytime you’re in a restaurant.  That’s, I mean that’s exciting though.  It’s always, we get to ask you guys a bunch about how you’re preparing and stuff like that, but it can’t ever be easy.  We always hear from the astronauts that the thing they miss most is the family and I imagine for the family the thing you miss most is obviously the person who is up in space for six months.

Bob Koch: Absolutely.  I’ll be just — I just can’t wait for it to all go down.  I’m just so proud of Christina and my goal is just been to support her as best I can throughout the whole process, you know her flow is definitely been accelerated, and you know, like I said, when she gets home make sure everything is in order and make sure everything is in order and make sure she’s taken care of and that’s the best I can do to support the mission.

Host: Make sure the house is still there [laughter].  So do you have like a space bucket list or anything like that?  I always like to imagine in my wild imagination that going to space is like talking to your buddies that have been to an amusement park and they’re like, “Go on this rollercoaster!  Go do this!”  And that translates to “Go do a space walk” or “Fixing this thing is absolutely miserable.”

Christina Koch: Absolutely [laughing].

Host: Do you have kind of a checklist that you’re hoping to go through once you’re up there?

Christina Koch: Well, you know, we do talk a lot amongst our cadre about, you know, the plusses and minuses, the good and the bad, the things that you definitely want to make sure you do in terms of what you bring up there or to make yourself comfortable and to be efficient in your work there.  So a lot of advice I’ve received over the years.  And I think I’ve always had photography as a hobby of mine and time-lapse photography and movies, so I’m really looking forward to the photography.  I like doing lifestyle photography as well, so I’m hoping to do some kind of, you know, life on board the space station photography to really tell the story of what it’s like running these experiments and keeping the, you know, the orbiting laboratory running.  And other than that, my mission, you know no real bucket list for myself.  I just want to, you know, give back.  I’ve been in a lot of training and I’m just ready to kind of put it to use and to hopefully be really productive and get a lot out of the mission for science and for keeping the station running smoothly.

Host: There’s got to be a — like, do you want any — like, are you dying to go to a spacewalk? You’re a rock climber so spacewalk is is kind of like rock climbing in a sense because you have tethers.

Christina Koch: A space walk, absolutely.  Yeah, spacewalk really speaks to a lot of the things that I find that I love and I find challenging, you know, mental and physical fortitude, the equipment, the technical aspects of it and you know, if I were fortunate enough to be able to do a spacewalk and there are some planned for my mission, I mean that would just be the real culmination of just everything I worked on both in my life before arriving here and all the training that I’ve received since I got here, the treat training teams that have prepared me.  So that would definitely be a highlight.

Host: So at the time of this recording we’re about two months away from your launch.  Is there any kind of last minute stuff you’re having to check off?  Anything you’re having to do before you go?  Any last training?  Because again, yeah you said you go to Russia real soon so it’s got to all kind of feel like the freight train is running now.

Christina Koch: It sure is.  From my aspect training wise, kind of buttoning up all of my final emergency qualification simulation events and just making sure I’m ready to support Nick and Aleksey when we do our qualification exams in Russia and making sure that, you know, the ducks are in line for the accelerated launch date.  The launch date had been April 6th and right now it’s scheduled for February 28th.  So a little bit sooner than we had prepped for, but my family is ready and I’m ready so just, you know, making sure that things are buttoned up.

Host: You ready, Bob?

Bob Koch: Oh I’m ready.

Host: You’re ready.  All right, well Christina Koch, NASA Astronaut.  Bob Koch, Army Corps of Engineers and Christina’s husband.  Thank you guys for joining me.  Christina, we’re super excited to see you fly along with Nick and Aleksey and we’ll be following along.  And yeah, take a million pictures because we never say no to more pictures.

Christina Koch: Sounds great.  Thank you so much for having me.  It’s been my pleasure.

Bob Koch: Thanks for having us.

[ Music ]

Host: You’re definitely going to want to watch Christina launch into outer space and you can see that live on NASA TV.  So be sure to head over to NASA.gov/ntv to watch her launch along with NASA’s Nick Hague and Roscosmos Cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin.  Check out Episode 65 to listen to Nick Hague’s story that he gave us right before his first launch in October, which as aborted during ascent.  Now he and Ovchinin are getting a second shot, this time along with Christina Koch.  And as always you could find all of the latest updates on the International Space Station online at NASA.gov/ISS or on all of our different social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  This episode was recorded on December 20th, 2018 thanks to Alex Perryman, John Stoll, Pat Ryan, Norah Moran, John Streeter, Brandi Dean, and Gary Jordan.  And thanks again to Christina Koch for coming on the show.  God speed and good luck on the launch and we’ll be back next week.

Last Updated: March 8, 2019
Editor: Norah Moran

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