NC State: To the Stars

It’s an essential astronaut skill: the ability to focus simultaneously on the mundane task at hand — tightening a bolt on the side of a space station, for instance — and its place in the big picture — your mission’s aim to advance science and get you back home in one piece.

In the three years since she started NASA’s Astronaut Training Candidate Program, alumna Christina Hammock Koch has added a lot of new skills, including speaking Russian and flying a supersonic jet.

But the Jacksonville, N.C., native has always had that crucial ability to focus on the moment without losing sight of the long game.

As a child, Koch dreamed of becoming an astronaut. A summer at Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., reshaped her plan to get there. During an appearance at Talley Student Union this past winter, Koch recalled being shown a checklist of essential skills and experiences for a future astronaut.

“I thought that living your life according to a checklist wouldn’t be worthy of someone who could have the responsibility to actually become an astronaut,” she says. “So I decided then and there to live my life according to my interests and passions. Down the road, if I looked at the experiences that I had gathered, and I thought that I really could contribute to the human spaceflight program as an astronaut, I would apply.”

That philosophy led her to NC State and a diverse set of experiences. Some, like double-majoring in physics and electrical engineering or interning for a summer at NASA, checked the traditional boxes for future astronauts.

Others, like being a staff photographer for the student newspaper or volunteering with social justice organizations, strayed outside those boxes.

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