To infinity and beyond! USA Cycling Olympian joins NASA Astronaut Class of 2021

Christina Birch was a member of the Tokyo 2020 Long Team, and will be trading her bicycle for a rocket ship in 2022

Fotografía cedida hoy por la NASA donde aparecen los diez candidatos a astronauta (i-d) Nichole Ayers, Christopher Williams, Luke Delaney, Jessica Wittner, Anil Menon, Marcos Berríos, Jack Hathaway, Christina Birch, Deniz Burnham y Andre Douglas.EFE/NASA /Robert Markowitz
Fotografía cedida hoy por la NASA donde aparecen los diez candidatos a astronauta (i-d) Nichole Ayers, Christopher Williams, Luke Delaney, Jessica Wittner, Anil Menon, Marcos Berríos, Jack Hathaway, Christina Birch, Deniz Burnham y Andre Douglas.EFE/NASA /Robert Markowitz

USA Cycling team member and 2020 Summer Olympian Christina Birch has a new a destination in sight, but it’s not Paris 2024.

It’s the moon.

Birch, a three-time World Cup medalist and member of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Long Team, has been selected by NASA to join the 2021 Astronaut Candidate Class. They will begin training in January 2022 for the Artemis missions, with the goal of a return trip to the moon.

“It’s a little surreal for me. It wasn’t until I put on the blue flight suit for the first time it actually started to feel real,” said Birch. “It really feels like I just won the lottery.”

It’s a fair comparison as Birch’s class of ten was selected out of 12,500 applicants. Birch received an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and Mathematics at Arizona State University and then obtained her Ph.D. in Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). That is when Birch’s interest in cycling actually began.

“I definitely got my start, especially in cycling, at MIT,” said Birch. “We had an incredible women’s team that was really fast, which inspired me to get faster and race more. That’s how I eventually got the opportunity to race on the national team.”

Race she did, as Birch is also a two-time Pan American Games gold medalist and an 11-time national champion, in addition to her Olympic and World Championship success.

Vista del centro espacial Kennedy en Cabo Cañaveral (EE.UU.). EFE/NASA/Bill Ingalls
Vista del centro espacial Kennedy en Cabo Cañaveral (EE.UU.). EFE/NASA/Bill Ingalls

Being successful on a bicycle is going to be a great asset to being a good astronaut Birch believes.

“I definitely think being in sport and taking it to a really high level and trying to be the best athlete I could be really helped me in the application process and is going to serve me well going forward,” said Birch.

“Just like I was training in cycling, I now have two years of really intensive training to graduate to become an astronaut assigned to potential missions to the moon and go do science on the International Space Station. So I think having a lot of comfort and familiarity going into unknown difficult processes, and still bringing 100 percent even when you’re tired, those are lessons I learned as a cyclist that are going to serve me well as a candidate.”

Birch plans to keep riding and racing during her astronaut training but her focus is on outer space, and not a return trip to the Olympics.