First All-Female Spacewalk Is Back On

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Dylan Wu

Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch are scheduled to make the first all-women spacewalk outside the ISS on October 21, 2020. The initial spacewalk involving Christina Koch and Anne Mcclain was canceled in March because one of the two astronauts lacked the appropriate medium-size torso component for her spacesuit. The spacewalk, however, was still conducted though it was not all-female: Anne McClain completed the 6-hour mission with colleague Nick Hague.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Meir will make the spacewalk instead of McClain, despite the latter’s decorated accomplishments, including orbiting the Earth more than 3000 times in 204 days on the ISS, is that McClain was accused of identity theft by her former spouse, Mrs. Worden. Although McClain claims she was only accessing bank account Worden’s bank account from space to make sure sufficient funds for her son’s care, the trial is ongoing and controversial.

The objective of the spacewalk is to upgrade the ISS’s station power supply by installing lithium-ion batteries. There are in fact five missions in October to complete this task, and five more spacewalks in November and December to repair the ISS’s alpha magnetic spectrometer, which analyzes cosmic ray events.

Koch and Meir were selected from the 2013 class as 2 of 8 astronauts from a batch of 6000 applicants. Considering that 4 of those were female astronauts and that there are only 12 women out of 38 active astronauts at NASA, the spacewalk is quite a remarkable and historical event. When asked to give her thoughts on the magnitude of the event, Koch replied, “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. And it’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted.” Koch will also achieve the impressive milestone of the longest single spaceflight of woman, surpassing Peggy Whitson, who set the record last April. Koch was grateful for such an opportunity, stating, “It is an honor to follow in Peggy’s footsteps [and] 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.” Because Koch will be in orbit until February, researchers will observe the effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman’s body, which are important for potential spaceflights to the moon and Mars, according to NASA. Meir also recognizes the importance of the mission–“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.”–but downplays her role in it; “It’s just normal. We’re part of the team.”