135: Christina Koch/Pale Blue Dot

Christina Koch, Galveston, Texas, September 2020. Photo: Owen Tozer

How does it feel to go into space? What does it make you feel about the future of our planet, and your own place in the universe? What are the moral implications of space travel? And just how do you take a picture of Pipeline from the International Space Station as it flies overhead at 17,000 mph?

All questions that I discussed with this week’s guest Christina Koch, a surfer and – yes – astronaut who just spent 328 days in space in the International Space Station, setting a new record for the longest spaceflight completed by a woman in the process. She also, as we discussed, spent her downtime photographing the planet’s best surf locations, posting them on her hugely popular Instagram feed and outing herself as a serial surf geek in the process.

Photo: Tozer

Christina’s story is as inspirational and fascinating as any I’ve featured on the Looking Sideways podcast. It’s a lesson in focus and determination, and a tale of a life embellished with profound experiences that have seen her spend seasons at the South Pole and literally live among the stars.

This breadth of experience has also given Christina a unique perspective on the biggest philosophical questions of all, whether it’s our place in the universe, the huge challenges we face on earth right now or the best way of handling individual experiences of stress and adversity.

Photo: Tozer

All topics, as you’ll know if you’re a regular listener, that are right up my boulevard. I’ve been trying to get Christina on the podcast for a few months now, and the resulting exchange is already one of my favourite ever Looking Sideways conversations. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Listen to the episode below:

Show Notes

  • The voyage of the James Caird
  • The Texas surf scene
  • Dragon Mission – Space X
  • Outreach travel
  • Christina’s ground job
  • The new model for space flight
  • Commercial viability
  • Spin-offs
  • The next frontiers – the Moon and Mars
  • Artemis
  • Are we unique?
  • The Mars mission
  • Re-flight
  • The evolution of spacecraft
  • Exercising in space
  • Christina’s surf specific physical rehab programme.
  • Her routine in space – maintenance, science and spacewalks
  • The challenges of photographing surf spots from the ISS
  • How NASA helps each astronaut cope with the psychological effects of space.
  • The concept of ‘sensory underload’.
  • Expeditionary behaviour
  • In the cupola
  • Christina’s emotional takeaways from her mission
  • The power of the collective will.
  • The increasing role of science in space exploration.
  • Christina’s experiences at Space Camp
  • Antarctica seasons
  • Can you be an astronaut and religious?
  • Christina’s solar system Wishlist
  • Reboost
  • The importance of focus over fear
  • Theorising Martian swell.
  • The gruelling nature of astronaut training.
  • Coping with the ‘Stereotype Threat’
  • Whitey on the Moon
  • Christina’s take on why the cost of space travel is warranted.

People Mentioned

  • Ernest Shackleton
  • Kelly Slater
  • Lea Thompson
  • Gil Scott-Heron

Places Mentioned

Companies/Organisations Mentioned

  • NASA
  • Space X
  • Boeing
  • WSL