History has been made in the first-ever all-female spacewalk. The walk was first scheduled to take place back in March, but NASA was forced to cancel it because of the sizing of the astronauts’ spacesuits. It was originally rescheduled for October 21, but NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had tweeted a change in the schedule which moved the spacewalk up to October 17 or 18.
The walk was pushed forward because one of the controllers orbiting the International Space Station (ISS) had failed and needed its batteries replaced. Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, the two astronauts involved in the walk, were to replace the battery. It was to begin at 7:50 am and last approximately 6.5 hours. The whole event was covered live.
What is a spacewalk?
NASA helpfully explained the entire concept on their website, but to put it simply, a spacewalk is anything that involves an astronaut leaving his or her spacecraft while still in space.
Another name for it is an “EVA” – extravehicular activity. Alexei Leonov, a cosmonaut from the Soviet Union, was the very first person to take a spacewalk back in 1965, and Ed White was the first American to take a spacewalk, just 3 months after Leonov.
In the current day, astronauts take spacewalks for numerous reasons, whether they are repairing equipment or performing a science experiment.
Who are the astronauts involved?
Two women took part in the spacewalk. One was Christina Kock of Michigan. She is part of three space expeditions and plans to remain in orbit until February 2020. This will set the record for the longest time a woman has spent in space – ever!
Before she became an astronaut, Koch worked as an engineer for numerous government organizations, like the Goddard Space Flight Center, the United States Antarctic Program, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The other female astronaut was Jessica Meir. Meir, born and raised in Maine, has a background in science and physiology since she worked as an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital.
It was there that she studied the physiology of animals in extreme environments. Now, she is a private pilot, and at NASA, she has served as an aquanaut—divers who live and work underwater for extended periods of time—at the world’s only undersea research station, ‘Aquarius’.
Were Koch and Meir involved in the canceled all-female spacewalk?
Meir was not, but Koch was. Koch and another female astronaut, Anne McClain, were to take the spacewalk on March 29. Unfortunately, since there weren’t enough medium-sized space suits, the event was canceled last minute.
As a result, Koch took the single medium-size torso and did the walk with Nick Hague. She was the fourteenth female to spacewalk. But don’t worry about McClain – she was the thirteenth woman the week before!
McClain returned to earth in June and tweeted concerning the spacewalk that took place: “Third spacewalk in a busy season of spacewalks this week. Date is unknown [because] the task was unforeseen: replacing a unit that failed during power-ups of new batteries. Very good that we have four expert spacewalkers on board to shoulder this tough task. They are the A-team!”
What did they do?
Koch and Meir replaced a power controller after it failed just a few days earlier. A similar malfunction occurred in April just after a battery-pack had been switched, according to Space.com.
Why is an all-female spacewalk such a big deal?
Spacewalks have been going on for 50+ years, but they’ve only been male-female and male-male until now. Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to spacewalk in 1984, nineteen years after Leonov. But the number of women who have spacewalked is pithy in comparison to the number of men.
Mika McKinnon pointed out in an article for Newsweek in March that while Meir was the fifteenth woman to spacewalk, 12 men named Michael have also completed a spacewalk. That certainly puts it in perspective!
It’s apparent that this all-female spacewalk has been long-awaited and is a huge milestone for female astronauts and for all the women of the world.
“Countless young girls across the country will witness this moment and understand that the sky is truly their limit,” presidential candidate Kamala Harris tweeted. “I can’t wait.”