DETROIT -- Astronaut Christina Koch spent almost 11 months aboard the International Space Station, and seeing the distant beauty of the Great Lakes from her outer perch changed her view of humanity.
" ... I'll never forget the first time it kind of came into focus over the horizon and realizing you see the Great Lakes all together and then suddenly realizing ... there's like Lake Michigan, there's the mitten ... . It's a really incredible feeling."
The Michigan native has been back on Earth for about six weeks after 328 days in space, the longest single spaceflight by a woman.
Her status as one of few women to conduct a spacewalk and her record-breaking stay in space has her on a new mission to inspire others.
"There are a lot of people that drive motivation from inspiring stories from other people who look like them, and I think it's an important aspect of the story to tell," said Koch, who hopes others break her record.
Koch, a 41-year-old electrical engineer from Livingston, Mont., said she was born to soar beyond Earth, even as she remains firmly tied to her West Michigan roots.
Her mother, Barbara Johnsen, grew up near Grand Rapids and her father moved to Metro Detroit when he was a student.
"They met in Kalamazoo at a hospital where my mom was a med tech and my dad was a resident to become a physician," Koch said in an interview with The Detroit News.
Koch, who spoke before the coronavirus outbreak redefined life on Earth, was born in Grand Rapids before moving to Jacksonville, N.C., when she was a toddler. She returns to Michigan often to visit family.
"I moved away when I was 3 years old, but the nice thing is I was able to return every single summer with my family. All of my extended family still live in Michigan, most in Grand Rapids, farm areas north of Grand Rapids, also some in the Detroit and Dearborn area."