Resident is ‘over the moon’ meeting astronauts
by Donna Gambol
“Are you astronauts?” was my enthusiastic query when two petite women, dressed in blue jumpsuits, came through the door of the car rental facility at the Long Beach Airport.
“Indeed we are,” was their response.
“Wow, you’re Christina Koch, and you’re Nicole Mann,” I said, reading the embroidered name tags on their uniforms. ”Wow!'
“And you?” asked Christina. Thus began a conversation wherein I learned that she was trained as an electrical engineer and Nicole had served as a Marine. They were friendly, enthusiastic conversationalists and willingly cooperative in having their photo taken with me. It was exciting to meet two active astronauts en route from Houston to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
When I returned home, I did a little research on the two. Christina, 42, was flight engineer on the International Space Station’s expeditions 59, 60 and 61. In 2019, she and Jessica Meir were the first all-female team to complete a succession of spacewalks. In December 2019, she broke the record for the longest continuous time in space by a woman and returned from space on Feb. 6, 2020, logging 328 days. Her extended mission is being used to study the physical, mental and biological effects of long-term space travel on women.
Nicole, 43, was being modest when she described herself as a Marine. A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy and Stanford University, Lt. Col. Mann has logged over 2,500 flight hours in 25 different aircraft, completed 200 carrier landings, and flown 47 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is an experienced test pilot in the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet.
She completed her astronaut training in 2015 and is currently assigned to the first crewed test flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner, scheduled for later this year.
Both are also in training for NASA’s Artemis Program,
Astronauts Christina Koch and Nicole Mann flank Donna Gambol, GRF board representative from Mutual 1. launched in 2017, with the goal of returning humans to the Moon, specifically the lunar south pole in 2024.
Christine grew up in North Carolina and holds both bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees from North Carolina State University. She is married to Robert Koch, and the two enjoy backpacking, rock climbing, surfing, yoga, community service and travel.
Nicole is married to Travis Mann and mother of an 8-year-old son. She is a native of California and holds both bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in mechanical engineering, with a specialty in fluid mechanics.
Meeting the two of them was a memorable experience that reignited my interest in the space program.