The American runner Birch trades his velodrome for space

Cycling – XVIII Pan American Games – Lima 2019 – Women’s Cycling Track Team Pursuit Final – Velodromo, Villa Deportiva Nacional, Lima, Peru – August 2, 2019. Team members Christina Birch, Chloe Dygert, Kimberly Geist, Lily Williams des United States with their Gold Medals. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

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Dec 7 (Reuters) – Eleven-time U.S. national champion Christina Birch swaps the cycling velodrome to begin a journey she hopes will take her to the moon.

Birch’s dramatic change in direction comes after she was selected for NASA’s astronaut class of 2021, which will see her embark on a two-year training course for the Artemis missions in Houston, Texas.

“I’m super excited to be the 2021 astronaut candidate. It’s still a bit surreal to me,” Birch, a two-time Pan Am champion, said in a USA Cycling statement.

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“It probably wasn’t until I put on the blue flight suit for the first time that it started to get real.”

Birch was on the long list for the Tokyo Olympics and submitted his bid while preparing for the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

“I completed my application online before returning to the track for some really hard efforts with the team,” she said.

“After Olympic selection, I had a few interviews at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Each one just made me feel like it was best for me and what I wanted to do.”

Birch, who holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, biochemistry and molecular biophysics, was selected along with nine others from 12,500 applicants.

“It’s kind of a dream. You hold your breath throughout the application process, hoping you’ll make it,” she added.

“I met so many amazing people during the interview process. Everyone is incredibly qualified. So I really feel like I won the lottery.”

Birch said the intense physical demands of her years of cycling training will stand her in good stead for a journey she hopes will end on the International Space Station.

“I think having a lot of comfort and familiarity in unfamiliar tough processes, and always bringing 100% even when you’re tired, are lessons I’ve learned as a cyclist that will serve me very well as a rider. that candidate,” she mentioned.

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Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Earnest L. Veasey