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Astronaut Christina Koch visits North Carolina to speak with public school students

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Astronaut Christina Koch has traveled farther than most in her lifetime, but this week, she traveled to her home state of North Carolina to meet with students to discuss her career and join Gov. Roy Cooper as he continues to advocate for public schools and STEM education.

“My time in North Carolina sparked my passion for exploration and helped me set my own journey to becoming an astronaut,” said Koch in a press release. “A strong educational and extracurricular foundation is key to ensuring we have the right set of skills to accomplish big things in space and on Earth in the future.”

Koch and Cooper visited North Carolina A&T State University on April 23 to meet with students and faculty in STEM fields. The next day, they addressed elementary school students from the Exploris School at the Executive Mansion.

“North Carolina’s strong public schools are setting up our students for success and encouraging them to shoot for the stars to reach their full potential,” Cooper said in the release. “We must invest in our public schools so they have the resources they need to prepare future astronauts, doctors and leaders. Astronaut Koch is a wonderful example of just how far you can go with a North Carolina public education – all the way to the moon!”

Students and faculty at both events asked Koch questions about her time and experiences in space. Koch met personally with students from the A&T rocketry team and signed the rocket they designed and built.

A&T students smile after astronaut Christina Koch signed the rocket they built. Laura Browne/EducationNC

Koch, who grew up in Jacksonville attending North Carolina public schools, served on the International Space Station and broke the record for spending the longest continuous time in space for a woman. She also took part in the first all-female space walk. She will participate in the Artemis II mission, expected in 2025. 

“One of the reasons we explore space isn’t necessarily to learn about the places we’re going. It’s to learn about ourselves,” Koch said. “No one who goes to space brings a bag of gold with them. They bring pictures of their family. We learned through leaving our home planet that we’re more alike than we are different.”

Koch said she credits her public education for preparing her for her career.

“In some ways, it has been everything that prepared me,” Koch said.

Cooper said it remains important to strengthen public education in the state while paying close attention to STEM education and training because these fields will produce the “jobs of the future.”

“This clean energy economy that we have expanding in North Carolina is going to provide a lot of jobs and so many more families will have more money in their pocket, but they got to get that training to be able to get those jobs,” Cooper said. “So we want to make sure that those investments are made now. I’ll tell you, we won’t continue to be first in business if we become last in education.” 

At the Executive Mansion, Cooper inducted Koch into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest honor from a North Carolina governor.

Koch gifted Cooper a North Carolina State Flag that she took with her on the International Space Station and a young tree that germinated while orbiting around the moon on Artemis I. 
Cooper’s events with Koch were part of his declaration of 2024 as the Year of Public Schools.