Two Women Walk into Space, Into History

Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir completed the first-ever all-female spacewalk on Friday morning. After a mishap scuttled the walk in March, the all-female walk set new precedents for space equity and female futures in STEM.
by Zoe Manzanetti | October 19, 2019 AT 3:01 AM

Last Friday, 250 miles above Earth, astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir completed the first all-female spacewalk and successfully replaced a broken battery charger on the International Space Station as their four male colleagues remained inside the station.

It was not the first time that women had been on a spacewalk, or an extravehicular activity (EVA) in official NASA speak. The first-female American EVA included Kathy Sullivan who walked with a male colleague on Oct. 11, 1984.

Almost 35 years to the day later, the United States has finally claimed its first all-female EVA. Koch had been on three previous spacewalks, but it was a first for Meir. It was also the first spacewalk conducted without a male astronaut for any nation as the pair spent five hours outside the station, climbing hand over hand and getting a lift from a robotic arm.

The monumental walk has taken months to complete, but not just because of necessary preparation or trainings. The historical female walk was planned for March with astronaut Anne McClain partnering with Koch, but the space-station only had one functioning, medium-sized spacewalking suit that fit the women, so McClain was replaced by their male colleague, Nick Hague. This time, both women had functioning suits that fit properly and were able to exit the station safely.

Friday morning’s spacewalk reinforces the need for advocacy and support for women in STEM education. Koch, an electrical engineer, and Meir, a biologist, are breaking antiquated gender barriers within the STEM fields with each space step they take. Women have been in space for decades, but this all-female walk is a reminder that large steps toward space equity and a more female-forward future begins with the relatively mundane matter of more suitably sized suits.