- NASA announced its 2021 astronaut class on December 6, and among the ten final candidates is pro cyclist Christina Birch.
- Birch is an 11-time track cycling national champion, but she also has a Ph.D. in biological engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Christina Birch, former pro track cyclist and 11-time national champion, is now an astronaut.
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NASA announced its 10 new astronaut candidates on December 6, and Birch is among those selected. According to the organization’s press release, this is the first new class of astronauts in four years. The selection is incredibly competitive and highly esteemed—over 12,000 people applied to the program.
Birch, 35, has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biophysics from the University of Arizona. She received her Ph.D. in biological engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she joined the school’s cycling team and began competing in earnest. She’s also taught bioengineering at the University of California, Riverside, and communication and scientific writing at the California Institute of Technology.
Birch first raced cyclocross with the JAM Fund cycling team before turning to track cycling. During her professional track cycling career, she won 11 national championships, won two gold medals at the Pan-American Games, and earned a spot on the 2021 Tokyo Olympic long team.
Birch is also a gravel cyclist, and last year, alongside her partner Ashton Lambie, launched an initiative called “Gravelnauts,” which she described to Bike Flights as such: “The point of Gravelnauts is to go explore off the beaten path and tell stories that would inspire others to do the same, and invent their own backyard adventures.”
According to a social media post from Lambie, Birch learned she had been accepted into the astronaut program on October 22. They’ve already moved to Texas in anticipation of Birch starting her training at the Johnson Space Center in January 2022.
“You could say we’re over the moon about it, and we can’t wait to share more about everything,” Lambie wrote in the post.
Birch’s training will take two years to complete, and then she may be “assigned to missions that involve performing research aboard the space station, launching from American soil on spacecraft built by commercial companies, as well as deep space missions to destinations including the Moon on NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket,” according to the press release from NASA.
At NASA’s announcement ceremony for the 2021 astronaut class, Birch gave the following statement:
As you can see, from my incredible classmates seated here beside me, there’s really no one path to becoming a NASA astronaut candidate. And, you know, you might think that my path as a bio engineer and a cyclist is a little bit out there, but it was really all of those skills that I gained from those experiences that helped me get here. And so I think my advice would be to find something that you’re really interested in—really curious about, passionate about—and explore that deeply. And I think if you approach every day trying to do the little things, well, they will add up to something really big, and that might be sitting here someday as a NASA astronaut candidate.