On the 18th of October 2019, two years back from today, NASA was able to reach a significant milestone in space history. It is when two American astronauts tasked with replacing a power controller ventured out of the International Space Station, becoming the first to take part in an all-female spacewalk. Glowing against the blackness of space, Jessica Meir and Christina Koch were the iconic history-makers involved in this legendary mission. It was the first all-female spacewalk in the 54 years since the late Soviet cosmonaut Alexey Leonov carried out history’s first spacewalk or EVA (extravehicular activity) in 1965. Although this is the 221st spacewalk that astronauts have performed in support of space station assembly, it is the first to be conducted entirely by women, and therefore highlights a memorable landmark in both human spaceflight and space feats by women.
Spacewalk Priors, Stupendous Performance Up to Date
The first woman to conduct a spacewalk was Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya in 1984, followed closely by NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan. An additional 12 US women have conducted 40 spacewalks over the past 35 years. Following their footsteps, Koch and Meir became the 13th and 14th, respectively. Jessica Meir, during her early career at Lockheed Martin’s Human Research Facility, supporting human physiology research, has also participated in research flights on NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft and served as an aquanaut in an underwater habitat for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO). After becoming an astronaut, she most recently served as a flight engineer on the International Space Station for Expedition 61 and 62. Excelling in a myriad of research areas as an astronaut, marine biologist, and physiologist, Time magazine included her in the list of 100 Most Influential People of 2020 as well.
Similarly, Christina Koch, prior to becoming an astronaut, pursued her work in space science instrument development and remote scientific field engineering. She has also contributed to scientific instruments on several NASA space science missions as an Electrical Engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics. Both Meir’s and Koch’s increasingly important roles and vast experience at NASA paved them the way to successfully complete this very first all-female spacewalk, leading the path for more and more women to conquer the infinite space
The Epic Tale of the First All-Women Spacewalk
It is widely known that in spacewalk assignments, astronauts always have to be best prepared to implement the tasks at hand under the conditions at the time. Spacewalks are truly the most physically challenging things for astronauts due to the possibilities of encountering potential hazards such as radiation, decompression sickness, exposure to dangerous chemicals, rotating equipment, and even sharp edges. Hence, such a dashing mission accomplished by Jessica Meir and Christina Koch coming to success is, unquestionably notable and highly inspirational.
Their historic extravehicular activity (EVA) began at 7:50 EDT (1150 GMT) and lasted about 5 1/2 hours. Meir and Koch were to replace the faulty power regulator, which had been in operation since 2000 and failed to activate after new lithium-ion batteries were installed on the space station a week before the spacewalk. Therefore, in support of the space station’s maintenance, they worked together to replace the 24 battery charge/discharge units (BCDU), with a new unit that was stowed on the outside of the station on the external logistics carrier.
Each of these BCDUs was about 28 by 40 by 12 inches (71 by 102 by 30 centimeters) and 235 lbs. (106.5 kg) on the ground on Earth. Koch rode the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm, which was controlled by Parmitano from the station, in order to get to the external logistics carrier and transport the large and bulky BCDU devices. According to NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, it could be tricky to maneuver the arm as “you spend a lot of brainpower interpreting the views that you see and cross-checking with other views”. Besides, it is worth emphasizing that this spectacular spacewalk was an outstanding expedition to demonstrate the fact that space is available to everybody.
History in the Making: Incredibly Formidable!
Symbolizing the exploration by all that dare to dream and work hard to achieve that dream, Meir and Koch with their utmost dedication and courage, have become ideal inspirations to everyone all over the world.
The first all-female spacewalk is a remarkable attainment worth noting and celebrating, as it was a massive inspiration for the agency’s ambitious goal to implement the specific task of putting the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 with NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program. Moreover, it is considered as the second of what NASA has called a “spacewalk bonanza,” with 10 outings scheduled through December. In fact, Jessica Meir and Christina Koch while seeing the Earth pass beneath their feet, finished this amazing operation having completed both their assigned tasks and extra “go ahead” activities with great heights.
It is notably evident that these two unique women have executed a very intellectually and physically demanding work in one of the most challenging circumstances in which humans operate (in orbital altitude of 250 miles, the velocity of 17,500 m.p.h.), and have eminently proved the position of women in such major human endeavors. All in all, the effort undertaken by Jessica Meir and Christina Koch, by their sheer skill and execution has undoubtedly shifted us closer to a significant representation of women in space based on intelligence, agility, capability, integrity, courage, and excellence. Thus, their accomplishment is more than historic; it’s a reminder that even the sky doesn’t have to be the limit for women, as well as for the whole of humankind.
01. Friday’s all-woman spacewalk: The basics (2019, October 17). National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). https://www.nasa.gov/feature/fridays-all-woman-spacewalk-the-basics
02. Gohd, C. (2019, October 18). NASA astronauts make history with 1st all-woman spacewalk. Space.com. https://www.space.com/first-all-woman-spacewalk-nasa-success.html
03. Zraick, K. (2019, October 18). NASA astronauts complete the first all-female spacewalk. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/18/science/space/nasa-female-spacewalk.html
01. Featured Image: Designed by Dasith Tilakaratna (SEDS UOC). Image resourced from https://bit.ly/3mCcP3X
02. Image 01: https://bit.ly/3iIfibW
03. Image 02: https://bit.ly/2YvdBI6
04. Image 03: https://bit.ly/3iIi4Os
05. Image 04: https://bit.ly/3uRMO4r