"Rendered Me Speechless": NASA's Christina Koch Will Be the First Woman to Reach the Moon

Christina Hammock Koch says she was “rendered speechless” by the announcement.

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On Monday, NASA announced the astronauts who, as early as next year, will boldly venture toward the Moon. A lot has changed in the half a century since Apollo sent the last crewed mission to the Moon. Human spaceflight now includes participation from more countries, as well as a visible diversity in its astronaut corps.

The first name called on during Monday’s Artemis II crew announcement was Christina Hammock Koch. NASA will, for the first time, fly a woman to the Moon.

Koch will join the first black astronaut to go to the Moon, Victor Glover, and the first Canadian to reach the lunar environment, Jeremy Hansen, on a 10-day mission. Under the command of NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, these four will fly farther from Earth than any person has gone before.

Koch has said she’s always wanted to be an astronaut. She began as an electrical engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and three years ago, she returned to Earth from a 328-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) where she set the record for longest single spaceflight by a woman. She also made history by being one-half of the first-ever all-woman spacewalk.

Inverse spoke with Koch the day after NASA announced her name.

Portrait of Artemis II astronaut Christina Hammock Koch.


Inverse: Did you dream about the Moon last night?

Christina Hammock Koch: What a great question! I don’t think I had many dreams last night. It wasn’t a long night of sleep, because we had some events late and some interviews early, but it was definitely a good relaxing time to reflect on what happened yesterday.

Was yesterday when you found out that you would be selected? Or when did you find out?

We found out as a crew about a month ago.

And how did that feel?

It was awesome. You know, we were all surprised by the news. And, in fact, we were all brought to a meeting with our boss, the astronaut who gives assignments, under a different pretext. So none of us knew that it was coming. Some of us arrived late to the meeting, maybe even myself included. And I’ll never forget the words that they said, which was, “Wow would you like to go fly on Artemis II?”

And of course, those words caught me completely off guard. Rendered me speechless. When I was able to talk again, I said, “Sir, it would be an honor.”

And this ‘sir’ is Joe Acaba?

Joe Acaba and Norm Knight, [respectively] the chief of the astronaut office and flight operations director at NASA Johnson Space Center.

The Artemis II crew. From left to right: Pilot Victor Glover, Commander Reid Wiseman (seated), Mission Specialist Jeremy Hansen and Mission Specialist Christina Hammock Koch.


In the “Chasing Life” podcast with Sanjay Gupta recorded in March 2022, you said you wanted to become an astronaut because there was a “fascination that I had had with things that made me feel small when I was small. I loved looking at the night sky, looking at the ocean, and anything that made me ponder the size of the Universe and our place in it.” I sense from that comment that astronauts are pros at surrender. Is that accurate?

That is a very interesting take. I’ve never thought about it from that perspective. But I think that that could be accurate. And of course everyone’s different, but oftentimes what we may be surrendering to is two-fold.

One is the metaphor of the vastness and the magnitude of what we are privileged to do. And the other part is surrendering to the mission. When you board a spacecraft, you don’t have anything of your own. You’re put in a spacesuit from someone else — you don’t even have objects in your pocket. And recognizing that the system that you’re a part of and what you’ve agreed to do for the sake of exploration means that you trust the teams and your crewmates that are around you.

That in and of itself could be considered a form of surrender, too.

You’ve lived on the International Space Station, and even set a record there. But now you’ll be in a much smaller vehicle, Orion, with three others. What is good space etiquette? And how important is that, especially as Artemis missions scale up in trip duration and distance from Earth?

It’s interesting that you brought that up, because NASA actually has an entire part of our training dedicated to what we call “expeditionary behavior skills.” And it’s just what you named. How do you be a good crewmate, usually in tight quarters?

Things that we practice are communication, leadership, followership, group living, self-care, and team care. Things that allow us to not only live, but to thrive and remain high-performing in those environments, to always have a reserve to call upon if there’s an emergency. Those types of things are so important in what we do. And we all on this mission hold those in very high regard.

Jeremy Hansen [Canada’s Artemis II astronaut], for example, was actually the instructor that first taught my class of astronauts about this concept — taught us how to give feedback, and introduced that as something to look forward to do, to help both make yourself better and to make your whole team better.

The Artemis II astronauts on stage during NASA’s crew announcement in Houston on April 3, 2023.


You broke the record for longest single spaceflight by a woman, previously held by astronaut Peggy Whitson. While you were still living on the ISS, you were asked about Whitson, and you said, “Peggy is a heroine of mine, who’s also been kind enough to mentor me through the years. And so, it’s a reminder to mentor when I get back.”

How important was Peggy as a mentor? And, going back to what we were talking about before, with all you have to do on the Artemis II mission and that sense of surrender to the mission, do you anticipate having, or making, room in your mind to let the experience soak in? To think about your female mentors, your place in the “relay race,” as Victor Glover [NASA’s pilot for Artemis II] put it yesterday, and, maybe something that you want to earmark, to tell little girls when you return to Earth?

To answer your first question, Peggy was absolutely instrumental in me growing up and becoming an astronaut in the astronaut candidate training program. She helped us through some of the most challenging and very physical aspects of the training. So in just the spacewalk training, she took time out of her own schedule to do that, both as a group and on an individual basis.

I think she was also an example of being strong, of being a leader. In the office, she’s actually currently the only woman who has led as the NASA chief astronaut. And knowing that that role has been held in the past by her is very inspirational. I had the honor of seeing her again recently, because she’s leading a commercial crew of astronauts to the space station, and talking with her a little bit about that. And the care that she expresses is just, always incredible. She always shows just how much she cares, truly, about each individual, and how we contribute to the astronaut corps. So that’s a great thing.

I have been honored to mentor several people since I’ve been back from my first space mission. (Author’s note: the 328-day mission to the ISS that ended in February 2020.)

And maybe even more importantly, for the first time, I reached out and asked a few people to mentor me. I have never actually been brave enough to do that in the past, and it was a little bit scary. But I can now happily say that I’ve had a couple of amazing mentors that have really helped me work through a lot of exciting things, and in the ground job that I’ve had since my mission. So I do hope to continue that.

And then throughout the mission, you mentioned, messaging to all people. I hope that during my time on this mission, I can fulfill one of my main goals, which is to not only carry the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of all of humanity —whether they are young students, or whether they are dreamers that saw the first Apollo landing, carry those dreams with us — and then bring back perspective.

And that includes telling the whole story. Telling them about the good days and the bad days. Telling about the inspirational aspects, and the day-to-day aspects. So I plan to stay true to that. It does take, obviously, an intentional effort and is every bit as worthy of that effort as the technical training that I also can’t wait to start.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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