Written by Mariel Padilla
The first spacewalk to be conducted entirely by women is scheduled for Oct. 21, NASA announced, nearly seven months after an all-female spacewalk was canceled because two properly fitted spacesuits were not readily available.
Christina Koch and Anne McClain, the two astronauts who were scheduled to conduct the spacewalk in March, both needed a medium-size torso component, but only one was available.
The spacewalk did take place — it just wasn’t all-female. Koch conducted the six-hour mission with fellow astronaut Nick Hague.
McClain, whose domestic dispute sparked what is believed to be the first criminal case in space, returned to Earth in June after orbiting the planet more than 3,000 times in 204 days. Summer Worden, McClain’s spouse, accused the astronaut of identity theft and improper access to her private financial records from space.
Koch will now set out with astronaut Jessica Meir this month on the first women-only venture outside the International Space Station. They are set to install lithium-ion batteries to better serve the station’s power supply.
It will be the fourth of 10 spacewalks scheduled for the next three months, which might set a record pace of complex spacewalks since the space station was completed in 2011, NASA said.
“I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing and in the past, women haven’t always been at the table,” Koch said on NASA TV. “And it’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted.”
Koch and Meir were part of the 2013 astronaut class. Of the eight people in that class — chosen from more than 6,000 applicants — half were women, a first for NASA. The agency lists 38 active astronauts on its website; 12 are women.
The first five scheduled spacewalks will upgrade the space station’s power systems and the last five, planned for November and December, will repair the alpha magnetic spectrometer, which analyzes cosmic ray events.
Koch, who arrived on the space station in March, is on her way to set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, surpassing Peggy Whitson, who in April became the American with the most overall space time.
“It’s an honor to follow in Peggy’s footsteps,” Koch said. “I hope that me being up here and giving my best every day is a way for me to say thank you to people like her, who not only paved the way through their examples, but actively reached out to make sure we could be successful.”
Koch is scheduled to remain in orbit until February. Her mission will provide researchers time to observe the effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman’s body, which will help support missions to the moon and Mars, according to NASA.
“What we’re doing now shows all of the work that went in for the decades prior, all of the women that worked to get us where we are today,” Meir, who arrived on the space station in September, said on NASA TV.
Meir said she does not think a lot about being one of two women on the space station.
“It’s just normal,” she said. “We’re part of the team.”