NASA astronauts and International Space Station (ISS) residents Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are making history by performing the first ever all-woman spacewalk. Starting bright and early at 7:50 a.m. ET on Friday, October 18, the pair ventured outside the International Space Station in order to perform repairs to the station’s power system.
Spacewalks are a true test of endurance, with this walk spanning five or six hours and requiring constant attention and focus. This particular spacewalk is the first performed by two women, both members of the Expedition 61 crew on the ISS, although plenty of women have taken spacewalks in the past alongside men — today was the 43rd spacewalk to include a female crew member.
An all-woman spacewalk was planned previously, when Koch and previous ISS crew member Anne McClain were scheduled to work together on a spacewalk in March, but that event had to be scrapped due to spacesuit sizing issues. Now, with two women aboard the ISS and a whole series of spacewalks planned over the next weeks, it was finally time for two women to step into the vacuum of space together.
Koch and Meir are in the process of replacing a battery charge/discharge unit as part of a wide-scale upgrade to the power systems on the ISS. New lithium-ion batteries were been installed on the outside of the station recently, but one charge/discharge unit failed to activate and needed to be swapped out. This unit forms part of the system which collects energy from the sun’s rays and stores it to power the station.
When asked what this achievement meant, Koch pointed out the importance of inspiring other women to get involved in space research. “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,” she said in an interview. “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.”