Koch described the joy of seeing so many people again and feeling her body reacclimate as “her mind [wakes] up to sensory experiences that define Earth.”
Apart from regaining her balance and getting used to walking again, Koch has been lucky. Unlike previous astronauts who returned from long-duration spaceflight missions, Koch didn’t experience motion sickness. Muscle aches are normal, and she felt a few in her neck — something she compared to a two-week-old working hard to hold up her head after floating in microgravity for close to a year.
She received advice from astronauts Scott Kelly and Peggy Whitson, who also hold records for long spaceflights (Koch has surpassed Whitson’s record of 288 days). They told her to pace herself and do what she loved. Long missions on the space station are “an ultra-marathon, not a marathon,” they’re fond of saying.
Mentally, Koch decided to focus on the fact that her time on the station was special. So rather than focusing on the things she missed from Earth, Koch thought about the things she’d never have again once her mission was over. This “mental cheerleading” allowed Koch to put positive messages on repeat in her head, she said.
But Koch adjusted well to space initially. One of her favorite moments was when they arrived at the space station. “I regarded it as this amazing place, my new home for the next year,” Koch said. “Something I had trained for so long had come to life.”
It only took three months for Koch to feel like the space station was home, and replacing her routine from Earth with the unusual aspects of microgravity became normal. She forgot she was floating until a new crew would arrive, because they were so excited about experiencing the sensation.
When it was time to come home, Koch’s personal effects making the return trip all fit in a shoebox — mainly mementos donated by friends and family members that she was excited to give back with a new memory attached to their sentiment.
Koch’s message to young people who aspire to be astronauts is to “follow your passions, live the life you’ve imagined and do what scares you.”
Koch herself knew she wanted to be an astronaut at five years old — but she also knew the chances of becoming one were low. She began with a single-minded goal, but when she went to Space Camp and learned about the process for becoming an astronaut, she made a key decision.
“I wasn’t going to live according to a checklist,” Koch said. “If the experience I gained would allow me to contribute in a great way to the space program, only then would I apply.”
As far as her records achieved in space — longest spaceflight, and the first three all-female spacewalks — Koch isn’t a stats person who keeps score. To her, the best thing that can happen when a record is set is when someone else breaks it