Trending Science: All-women spacewalk makes history
Two American astronauts successfully complete the first all-women spacewalk.
On 18 October, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir spent over 7 hours outside the International Space Station (ISS), about 408 km above Earth. They replaced a faulty power control unit that failed to activate after a spacewalk on 11 October. The power unit is designed to help condition energy stored from ISS’s solar panels. It poses no risk to the crew or ISS, but it prevents the new batteries from providing increased station power.
This was the fourth spacewalk for Koch, an electrical engineer, and the first for Meir, a marine biologist. It’s the first spaceflight for both women, who were selected in the 2013 astronaut class that had an equal share of women and men. The two have trained together for the past 6 years. NASA broadcast the spacewalk live, and a video is available on its YouTube channel.
Koch discussed the significance of carrying out her mission and this spacewalk in an interview posted on the NASA website. “In the end, I do think it’s important, and I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing. In the past women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the space program at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role. That can lead in turn to increased chance for success. There are a lot of people who derive motivation from inspiring stories of people who look like them, and I think it’s an important story to tell.”
Meir was retrospective in a statement honouring the women space pioneers who paved the way for their spacewalk: “This is really just us doing our jobs. At the same time, we recognize that it is a historic achievement, and we do of course want to give credit to all those that came before us. There’s been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers and astronauts.” She added: “We have followed in their footsteps to get us where we are today.”
One small spacewalk for woman, one giant leap for women everywhere
US President Donald Trump congratulated Koch and Meir in a video call from the White House. “The job that you do is incredible. I’m thrilled to be speaking with two brave American astronauts making history. This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station. I just want to congratulate you, you’re very brave people. You are amazing people.” It was the first time astronauts have spoken to a US president outside of a spaceship since 1969.
“Women and girls around the world are seeing some of their earliest dreams realized today with this historic all-women spacewalk,” Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump said following the call. “Women in STEM are a force to be reckoned with and advocating for increased access to these fundamental educational skills has been some of the most important work I’ve been able [to] do.”
“Mission accomplished!” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stressed the importance of the spacewalk in a tweet: “Today’s historic achievement paves the way for our #Artemis program, which will send the first woman to the Moon in 2024. Ad Astra [to the stars]!”