The first all-female spacewalk occurred on Friday, Oct. 19. American astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir performed a historic accomplishment, formally known as an EVA or extravehicular activity, from the International Space Station.
The purpose was to replace a faulty power unit on the exterior of the ISS which was noncritical to the station’s functioning. This preparation is in anticipation of an upgrade from solar array to lithium ion batteries. The mission was a success, with both astronauts stating that they were both proud and pleased with their work.
In an interview released by NASA, Jessica Meir said, “We recognize that it is a historic achievement and we want to give credit to the women who came before us. We have followed in their footsteps to get where we are today.”
The astronauts have been congratulated by many, including NASA Administrator Jeff Bridenstine, who said the all-female spacewalk would pave the way for a female moonwalk in the 2024 Artemis program. Even President Trump called the astronauts during their seven-hour, 17-minute long mission to congratulate them on their bravery. He said he was thrilled; “This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station.” Meir clarified that it was not the first spacewalk for a woman, but the first time it was solely women conducting the spacewalk.
Women have been performing spacewalks since Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya conducted an EVA from the Salyut 7 in 1984. Since then, 14 American women have completed extravehicular activities.
NASA had planned an all-female spacewalk scheduled for March of this year, but the mission was cancelled due to inadequately sized spacesuits. This had raised some questions about lack of consideration for female bodies. NASA says that even though astronauts train in multiple sized spacesuits, living in zero gravity conditions can affect their size and suit preferences.
Koch and Meir were in the same astronaut class and have spent the last six years training together. Koch arrived on board the ISS in March, and had already performed three EVA’s prior to this one. Meir arrived in early October and this is her first spacewalk.
By the time Koch returns to Earth, hers will be the longest single spaceflight by a woman. In response to breaking records, she says she’s just doing her job. Koch hopes that her work inspires and empowers other women. “There are a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell,” she said.
NASA has been making significant efforts to ensure that women are equally included at the agency and in the field. The 2013 astronaut class which Koch and Meir both belong to was the first to include an equal number of men and women. According to NASA’s Equal Employment Opportunity Strategic Plan, “In 2017, for the sixth year in a row, NASA was ranked the best place to work among large Federal agencies, leading in all 14 categories, including Support for Diversity.” The agency is working to increase diversity in engineering, physical science, and leadership positions for both women and minorities.