Two U.S. astronauts will conduct the first-ever all-female spacewalk at the International Space Station later this month. The event is one of three spacewalks scheduled by NASA in the coming weeks.
American astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch will exit the ISS on March 29. If all goes as planned, their history-making spacewalk will take place two days before the end of Women’s History Month.
History Follows History
NASA has enjoyed many groundbreaking moments in its 50-year-plus history of the space program.
Recently, NASA and SpaceX completed the first successful launch and ISS docking of a commercially-developed capsule that can put cargo and people into orbit. The Crew Dragon’s groundbreaking mission also paved the way for its inaugural crewed flight, which is projected to take place this summer.
McClain and crew will be on board the ISS to welcome incoming Crew Dragon flight members when they arrive. Game-changing milestones like these would not be possible without the courage, dedication, and success of early space pioneers.
Almost 36 years ago, the first American female astronaut, Sally Ride, traveled into space on the space shuttle Challenger. Her six-day journey launched on June 18, 1983, and returned to Earth on June 24.
Ride continued to blaze a trail for women in space at NASA until 1987. Once complete, this month’s all-female spacewalk will continue her legacy.
NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz confirmed to CNN that McClain and Koch’s upcoming spacewalk will be “the first with only women,” adding “it was not orchestrated to be this way.”
Female Ground Support
A team of females will support McClain and Koch’s spacewalk in important roles on the ground. Mary Lawrence will serve as lead flight director and Jackie Kagey will be lead EVA flight controller.
Furthermore, Canadian Space Agency flight controller Kristen Facciol will be on the console at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Facciol expressed her excitement about the landmark event on Twitter writing:
I just found out that I’ll be on console providing support for the FIRST ALL FEMALE SPACEWALK with @AstroAnnimal and @Astro_Christina and I can not contain my excitement!!!! #WomenInSTEM #WomenInEngineering #WomenInSpace
— Kristen Facciol (@kfacciol) March 1, 2019
To Boldly Go Where No Woman has Gone Before
Women’s roles are expanding and the gender tides are shifting in many STEM-related industries, including the electronics sector and the space industry.
For many years, NASA only selected men with military jet pilot experience as astronauts. After adding mission specialists, NASA broadened program parameters. Women, scientists, and engineers could also apply thanks to those changes.
Females have continued to make strides in space since NASA selected the first six female astronauts in 1978. Peggy Whitson, for example, spent a career-total of 665 days in space. Now retired, Whitson still holds the U.S. record for that feat.
McClain and Koch both hail from the 2013 astronaut class, which was NASA’s first bearing equal numbers of men and women. Today, women make up 34 percent of active astronauts at NASA and the future for women in space seems bright.
Continuing the Mission
McClain will also participate in a spacewalk with crew member Nick Hague (U.S.) on March 22. McClain has been part of Expedition 58/59 at the ISS since December 2018. David Saint-Jacques (Canada) and Commander Oleg Kononenko (Russian Federation) are her original crew members.
Koch arrived safely at the ISS on March 14 as part of Expedition 59 along with Hague and Alexey Ovchinin (Russian Federation). The combined ISS crew will conduct over 250 science investigations in a six-month period.
On March 29, McClain and Koch will continue to carry out the previous week’s spacewalk objective to “replace nickel-hydrogen batteries with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries for power channels on one pair of the station’s solar arrays.” Hague and Saint-Jacques will complete the third spacewalk on April 8.
All three spacewalks will last about seven hours each. They will all be broadcast live on NASA TV. As with any spacewalk, all scheduled events are subject to change.