NASA’s first all-female spacewalk makes history

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    | Posted on October 19, 2019

For more than seven hours on Friday, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch completed the first all-female spacewalk or extravehicular activity (EVA), which is any activity performed in unpressurized or space environments. This spacewalk was the 221st  at the International Space Station since December 1998. The history-making team officially began the excursion at around 7:38 a.m. eastern standard time, completed the spacewalk in the afternoon, and was even able to perform some additional tasks for future spacewalks. Nasa astronaut Stephanie Wilson communicated with and guided the two women from Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

This spacewalk was Koch’s fourth and Meir’s first. The pair replaced a faulty battery charge/discharge unit (BCDU) which regulates the amount of charge the station’s batteries receive from energy collected by the solar arrays to power the space station’s system, according to NASA. The BCDU failed to activate following an installation of new lithium-ion batteries on the space station’s truss on October 11.

The first spacewalk was conducted in 1965 by Soviet Russian cosmonaut, Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov. In 1984, Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to complete a spacewalk. Throughout history, a total of 15 women have completed spacewalks, including yesterday’s duo, who were paired with each other and not a male astronaut. The first all-female spacewalk was scheduled in March of this year but was postponed due to spacesuit availability. Koch would have been paired with NASA astronaut, Anne McClain.

During the spacewalk, the two women received a called from the White House and were congratulated by President Donald Trump.

“Congratulations Christina and Jessica on this historic event,” President Trump expressed.

They’ve been training for the past six years and have received an immense amount of support for completing yesterday’s feat. Hundreds of thousands of viewers have already made the recording of the live-streamed event a trending YouTube video.

“So proud of my astrosisters @Astro_Christina and @Astro_Jessica! We’ve been training together since our selection in 2013, and now they’re out on a history-making spacewalk! #AllWomanSpacewalk,” fellow NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan tweeted.  

Completing spacewalks may appear less challenging than it is. The spacesuits protect the astronauts from the vacuum and extreme conditions in space and hold water and oxygen. Typically, a suit is pressurized, weighs about 300lbs in gravity, and is bulky and difficult to maneuver. One way astronauts train for these space expeditions is by practicing underwater in a large pool called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, which has a full-size mock-up of the space station, according to NASA. For every hour astronauts will spend on a spacewalk, they practice for seven hours in the pool. This pool contains 6.2 million gallons of water.

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch are inside the Quest airlock preparing the U.S. spacesuits and tools they will use on their first spacewalk together. Image credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Christina Koch worked while tethered near the Port 6 truss segment of the International Space Station to replace older hydrogen-nickel batteries with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries, during the October 11, 2019, spacewalk. Fellow NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan (out of frame) assisted Koch during the six-hour and 45-minute spacewalk. Image credit: NASA

This week NASA also revealed spacesuits for the Artemis Program, which aims to land astronauts on the moon by 2024.

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