CARY — NASA astronaut Christina Koch holds the record for the longest single spaceflight completed by a woman and participated in the first three all-women spacewalks late last year.

Now, the NC State graduate can add another accolade to her long list of achievements – the 2020 Global ATHENA Leadership Award.

As part of a live virtual event co-hosted by Cary-based software analytics firm SAS on Tuesday, the 41-year-old received the honor, joining notable past recipients that include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“This award means a lot to me. To be a part of this elite group, many of whom are my heroes, is almost unbelievable,” she said during the one-hour webinar.

“I see myself as having even bigger role now as being one of those cultivators,” she added, “to not only make sure and recognize the people that paved the path for me to be where I am today and who inspired me to do so, but to continue to give back to mentor to make sure that we pay those experiences forward.”

The award, presented by ATHENA International, honors women whose body of work has had a national or global impact.

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and raised in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Koch was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2013.

This February, Koch returned to Earth after spending 328 days in space as a flight engineer on the International Space Station. During this time, she conducted six spacewalks – including the first three all-women spacewalks – and contributed to more than 210 scientific experiments in biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.

As part of her keynote address, she shared her personal journey to becoming an astronaut, emphasizing her North Carolina roots and fondly mentioning her time spent at NC State where she also took up rock climbing. That hobby, she said, “developed skills outside of school” necessary for the job.

At one point, she even showed photos of RTP and her hometown of Jacksonville that she took from out of space while on board the the International Space Station.

“It’s just wonderful to have been able to come full circle,” she said.

SAS said it’s important to recognize Koch’s achievements and to encourage more women to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Promoting diversity in STEM is part of the DNA of SAS,” said Michelle Proctor, SAS principal business operations specialist and leader of SAS’ Women in Analytics Network.

“From the company’s inception, it has always been a focus. We realize the importance of extending roles for women in analytics to broaden the diversity of thought and recognize the unique value that women bring to the field. Events such as the one today also provide us the opportunity to encourage and inspire the younger generation to be curious.”

Astronaut, NCSU graduate Christina Koch blasts off (+ read her bio, watch video)