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Back on Earth, NASA astronaut Christina Koch is a pro at social distancing

Posted May 4, 2020 6:15 a.m. EDT
Updated May 4, 2020 2:04 p.m. EDT

— It's been an unusual, incredible year for NASA astronaut and North Carolina State University graduate Christina Koch.

In February, Koch returned to Earth after a 328-day spaceflight, which included 5,248 orbits of Earth or roughly 139 million miles and 291 trips around the moon. She holds the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman and even participated in the first all-female spacewalk.

Koch has been back on Earth for more than two months now and, like the rest of the world, is in isolation at her Galveston, Texas, home.

In a video interview with WRAL News on Wednesday, Koch said she was thankful she had a few weeks to go out to eat, go shopping and see family and friends before stay-at-home orders took effect.

Although she is in Texas now, Koch made the trip to North Carolina to spend some time in the Triangle before quarantine.

Koch actually loved the food in space, she said, although it doesn't compare to the food on Earth.

"The first time I had sushi or a steak, I remember thinking, 'Oh wow, that turkey tetrazzini probably wasn't as good as I thought it was,'" she laughed.

After spending 11 months in space, Koch said she didn't think it would be possible to fully recognize the breadth of the mission until she was back on Earth.

"It is finally sinking in," she said. "I had to learn how to walk again and how to not get motion sick."

Koch said, after seeing her friends and family, she was most excited to experience the outdoors again when she got home. She said she has especially appreciated getting in the water and enjoying the smells of the forest and her own backyard.

Koch, who grew up in Jacksonville, N.C., loves the coast. She grew up sailing with her dad and loves to surf.

"The water inspired me to love things that make me feel small," she said. "Things that help me realize how big and vast everything is."

Although she had her two colleagues aboard the space capsule for company, Koch essentially spent 328 days in isolation. Her best advice for coping with social distancing is staying healthy and positive.

"I think, as we wear on, some of us might find we are losing that 'oomph,' that vigilance," Koch said. "Set a schedule, get outside and exercise and remain vigilant. Think about the things you have in this moment that you may never have again."

Koch said being in space for so long was difficult at times, but her colleagues got her through it.

"I tried to remember to support the people around me and not focus so much on myself," she said. "We had some really fun microgravity pizza nights," she said. "It's so cool to see your pizzas floating in the air."

Kindness and making the most of our time on – or off – Earth is important, Koch said. In the meantime, Koch is filling her days with outreach and spending time with her dog, Sadie. She started reading stories to kids on Instagram Live and is hoping to reach more people.

What will her next big mission be? Koch said she will definitely return to space if given the opportunity to do so.

"It has been the honor of my life to contribute," she said.

Before she signed off, Koch offered one piece of advice to the N.C. State Class of 2020 and graduates everywhere.

"This may have not been the graduation experience you expected, but it can be a springboard for the future," she said. "[This experience] has prepared you to take on unexpected challenges. Continue to pursue your passions, do what scares you and support each other. I can't wait to see what you all do."

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