GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Humans are going back to the moon and a veteran astronaut with ties to West Michigan will play a major role in the return, granted a view of the Earth that few have seen.

“I’m … really looking forward to how different the Earth is going to look from the vicinity of the moon. Being able to see it as illuminated from the sun in phase, as one little thing in the window will be every different than looking at it from the space station,” Christina Koch told News 8 in a Zoom interview Tuesday. “And that perspective, I think, is a really important part of this mission.”

On Monday, NASA announced that Koch will be part of Artemis II, a mission that will take a crew to orbit the moon for the first time in over 50 years. She is the first American woman assigned to a lunar mission.

Artemis II and its crew of four will orbit the moon in preparation for Artemis III’s eventual lunar landing. Koch will serve as a mission specialist.

“Basically, just being a crew member and making sure that we thought about every way that the mission can be as good as it can be for the next group that’s going to be taking the same vehicle and eventually landing on the moon,” she explained her role.

A photo released by NASA shows the Artemis II crew: Christina Koch (left), Reid Wiseman (in front), Victor Glover (behind) and Jeremy Hanson (right).
A photo released by NASA shows the Artemis II crew: Christina Koch (left), Reid Wiseman (in front), Victor Glover (behind) and Jeremy Hanson (right).

A Grand Rapids native raised in North Carolina, Koch spent her teen years working on her family’s orchard near Sparta during the summer.

“My time in West Michigan was very formative,” Koch said. “I completely credit that for forming my work ethic, for valuing how much you can contribute, not complaining, pitching in, always helping and really just teamwork in a lot of ways.”

Koch is a veteran of space flight. Having spent 328 days on the International Space Station in 2019, she holds the record for longest spaceflight by a woman. She also took part in the first all-female spacewalk.

She said Artemis II will be a mission like no other.

“The rocket is different. It’s a massive moon rocket. It’s the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built. That’s going to feel very different riding into orbit,” she said. “On the ISS, I was about 250 miles above the surface of the Earth and I’m going to go more than a thousand times farther than that on this mission if everything goes as planned.”

Artemis is designed as a platform that will return humans to the moon and a steppingstone for future manned missions to Mars.

“To me, Mars is one of the ultimate frontiers for human exploration because of the search for life,” Koch said. “I think it’s the biggest philosophical question of our time: Are we alone? We’re going to start to answer this question by this first trip going to the moon.”

Koch also hopes Artemis II rekindles the sense of adventure and accomplishment that the Apollo program sparked more than 50 years ago.

“I think that given where we are in the world today, that message could not be more important,” she said, “that when something is worth doing, when the benefits you get out of it are so great for all of humanity, it’s worth coming together and it’s worth taking on those challenges. And yes, they can be accomplished.”

Asked if she hopes to one day set foot on the moon, she said she hasn’t thought that far ahead and that her main focus is on making sure Artemis II is a success.