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NC astronaut blasts today for International Space Station visit :: WRAL.com

North Carolina's astronaut Christina Koch made her first trip to space on Thursday at 03:14. EDT with a launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Koch grew up in Jacksonville, graduating from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham in 1997. She went on to North Carolina State University to earn a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering 2001, an additional Bachelor's degree in Physics and a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering it the following year.

At a bell party on Thursday afternoon at the NC State Campus, the audience held their collective breath when Koch raced into space before breaking out into the visual applause.

Koch will spend six months at the International Space Station and will next week participate in the first all-women spacewalk. For the NC state and the people who know Koch, the assignment will probably inspire generations to come.

"What a wonderful model I have had the privilege of meeting twice and small girls all over America will see and indeed all over the world," said NC state interim department of Jamila Simpson.

When Koch got the call from NASA that she had been accepted as part of the 201

3 astronaut candidate class, she was at NOAA's American Samoa Observatory where she served as station manager, monitoring of atmospheric gases, particles and radiation to better understand climate requirements, ozone loss and air quality. She has previously done similar work at NOAA's monitoring facilities in Barrow, Alaska.

Koch's NASA career began at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Laboratory in Maryland, where she worked on several scientific instruments flying aboard missions exploring the solar system. She went on to Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory where she continued to design instruments. Her contribution included the Energetic Particle Detector Instrument aboard the Juno spacecraft currently studying Jupiter and X-ray Spectrometer Instruments aboard the Suzaku Mission studying Van Allen's radiation band.

She has won several awards for her work including group awards and the US Congress Antarctic Service Medal.

Koch is not one to stay in the lab all the time.

She built on her love outdoors and challenged herself physically and technically first with a climbing class at NCSU. She took it utterly as part of the United States Antarctic program where she not only worked at Admunsen-Scott South Pole Station but also participated in the fire department where it was time for the extreme harsh winters. She spent several winters as science at Summit Station in Greenland.

Since her election to the astronaut program in June 2013, she has undergone extensive training in international space station systems, space walks, robotics, physiological training and survival training for water and wilderness. She also learned to fly the T-38 aircraft.

These high-performance jets are not just corporate cars, providing transportation for astronauts from their Houston home near the Johnson Spaceflight Center. They also provide valuable experience for astronauts in the type of G forces they will experience during the launch. But more importantly, they train you to think fast.

Koch has also spent time at NASA's Neutral Bouyancy Laboratory. This 40-foot deep pool features full-size mockups of the international Koch space station modules that will navigate with other NASA astronaut Anne McClain. The next week's spacewalk will focus on upgrading batteries that keep the station running as it passes to the dark side of the earth every 45 minutes.

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