NASA's First All Women Spacewalk




On October 18th, 2019, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history. They were the first all-woman team to perform a spacewalk on the International Space Station (ISS). Koch and Meir follow in the footsteps of other pioneering space women. For example, the first female spacewalk took place 35 years ago.

The Historic Spacewalk




At 07:38am (North American time), Koch exited the ISS in an extravehicular activity suit (space suit), followed a short time later by Meir. The two women went to work replacing a faulty battery charge/discharge unit. The device is one of a few pieces of equipment that is responsible for regulating the station’s power. It had failed the previous week but was not critical to life support. However, the task needed to be completed because it was hindering upgrades on the ISS’s batteries being changed over from nickel-hydrogen to lithium-ion. The spacewalk lasted over seven hours and was ultimately a success. It was Koch’s fourth and Meir’s first spacewalk.

NASA originally announced the first all-woman spacewalk back in March 2019 but cancelled it because there weren’t enough space suits to fit both women. It was originally scheduled for Koch and Anne McClain. Spacesuits come in different sizes and parts are interchangeable. That way, they can be custom fitted for each astronaut. McClain had trained in both medium and large torso suits but didn’t feel comfortable working in a large when she got to space. There was only one medium available at the time and it was needed for Koch. McClain was thus replaced by Nick Hague. McClain said the decision to cancel was hers and NASA stood by her recommendation.

The spacesuit Koch wore during the October 18th extravehicular activity shares a heritage with one worn by the first American woman, Kathy Sullivan, who walked in space. Koch’s suit number was 3008 and included the 1008 Portable Life Support System (the backpack of the suit). It had the same serial number as the one Sullivan used in October 1984. Though both women’s backpacks have the same serial number, it’s almost a completely new system due to upgrades and replaced parts over the years. Spacesuits are extensively serviced and tested. Only 18 life support backpacks were produced for the model. A number of them were lost in the two space shuttle disasters of 1986 and 2003.

A Brief History of Women’s Spacewalks

The first woman to spacewalk was Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya. She exited Salyut 7 on July 25th, 1984, and spent over three and a half hours outside, conducting repairs to the space station. America’s first female spacewalk was in October of the same year. As of the start of 2020, twelve women have performed spacewalks on over forty occasions.

Christina Koch





Christina Hammock Koch joined NASA in 2013 as part of the year’s astronaut intake. The group was affectionately given the nickname ‘the eight balls’ and had the highest number of women in the agency’s history. Koch completed training in July 2015. She grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and has a Bachelor of Science (Electrical Engineering and Physics) and a Master of Science (Electrical Engineering). Koch started off as an electrical engineer at the NASA Goodard Space Flight Center and worked on scientific instruments for unmanned probes. From 2004–2007, she was part of the United States Antarctic Program. She spent a year between the Amundsen–Scott and Palmer Stations in Antarctica. Prior to her astronaut candidacy, she worked on radiation particle devices for the Juno and Van Allen Probe missions.

Jessica Meir




Jessica Meir and Koch were in the same NASA class. The two graduated together in 2015. Meir was born in Caribou, Maine, and had a fascination with science from an early age. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Biology) and a Master of Science (Space Studies). She studied the diving physiology of marine animals for her PhD. Before becoming an astronaut, she worked with NASA at Lockheed Martin and researched the effects of microgravity on the human body. Meir has extensive CAPCOM (spacecraft/station communications) experience and was the lead operator during the International Space Station’s Expedition 42.

Future

Koch will stay on the ISS until February 2020. By that time, she’ll have been on board for 328 days and will have broken the record for the longest time a woman has spent in space. The current record, held by Peggy Whitson,  stands at 288 days. Meir is assigned to the station for Expeditions 61 and 62. Both Koch and Meir are proud of their achievements. They’re honoured to be part of the legacy of female astronauts who came before them. They also hope their spacewalk will inspire others to follow their dreams, not just women.




By: Matthew J. Healy 

Sources:
 All-Female Spacewalk Was Cancelled on 'My Recommendation,' Astronaut Anne McClain Says (https://www.space.com/anne-mcclain-spacesuit-response-video.html)
First All-Woman Spacewalk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNnvYACgwrE)
First All Woman Spacewalk Outside the Space Station on This Week @NASA – October 18, 2019, The (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Daelqxwph08)
First All-Female Spacewalk Has Link to First US Woman to Walk in Space (https://www.space.com/first-all-female-spacewalk-link-to-space-history.html)
NASA Astronauts Make History with 1st All-Woman Spacewalk (https://www.space.com/first-all-woman-spacewalk-nasa-success.html)

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