It was a short 58 years ago, in 1961, when Yuri Gagarian orbited around the globe. Since then, we’ve come a long way in space exploration.
Still, there’s one area where we need to make leaps and bounds to catch up – giving women a place in space.
That’s not to say women haven’t been in space. In fact, women have been conquering space for 35 years – starting with Russian Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya in July of 1984.
Side note: a cosmonaut is trained and certified to work in space by the Russian Space Agency, while astronauts are trained and certified for spacework by NASA, ESA, CSA or JAXA.
Shortly thereafter, in October 1984, NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan followed in her footsteps. Over the last 35 years, 12 U.S. women have completed 40 different spacewalks.
And at long last, in the year 2019, we have finally witnessed the first-ever all-female spacewalk. Pictured below are the two women to take on the long overdue honor, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir.
The spacewalk was scheduled for 7:50 am E.T. on October 8, 2019. The women were tasked with replacing a faulty battery charge/discharge unit that had failed to activate after a spacewalk on October 11.
The faulty unit was preventing a set of recently installed batteries from providing power and needed to be replaced before additional spacewalks to install new batteries could continue.
This was Christina Koch’s fourth spacewalk.
Growing up, Koch dreamed of becoming an astronaut. This is what lead her to earn a degree in Electrical Engineering and Physics at North Carolina State University. In addition, she earned a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering.
In 2001, Koch graduated from the NASA Academy program at Goddard Space Flight Center. She has completed a great deal of work in space science instrument development and remote engineering fields.
In addition, she spent 3.5 years traveling throughout the Arctic and Antarctic regions. She said the time spent doing so was both mentally and physically challenging.
It was Jessica Meir’s first spacewalk.
The Swedish-American-Israeli NASA astronaut believes what led her to this moment and inspired her to become an astronaut was watching the Space Shuttle missions on TV as a kid.
“It might [also] have had something to do with the fact that the stars shone so brightly in rural Maine,” she added.
Meir holds a Master of Space Studies degree and a Ph.D. in Marine Biology, which she obtained at Brown University, while also doing some work at Harvard Medical School.
Meir originally boarded the ISS on September 25, 2019. She has double citizenship in America and Sweden, making her the first Swedish woman in space – a double victory.
This wasn’t the first time NASA attempted to conduct an all-female spacewalk. Unfortunately, the first attempt in spring of 2019 failed due to issues with spacesuits.
No, the spacesuits were not broken. Instead, there weren’t enough spacesuits onboard to fit women.
This time around, NASA was ready with enough medium-size spacesuits to make the all-female mission possible.
Christina Koch was on the schedule to do the first-ever all-female spacewalk back in the spring as well. Since there was only one medium-size spacesuit onboard, NASA decided to postpone the long-overdue moment.
According to plan, Koch and Meir took off from the International Space Station at 7:50 AM ET time.
The spacewalk lasted for seven hours and seventeen minutes, ending at 2:55 PM ET.
High above the clouds, the women were able to see the Earth pass beneath their feet.
While an estimated 500 people have traveled into space, only ten percent have been women.
All spacewalks in the past have included a mix of both male and female astronauts.
The spacewalkers were assisted by Commander Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and NASA Flight Engineer, Andrew Morgan.
The two women successfully completed their mission and were even able to accomplish some get-ahead tasks on the station.
“It’s really interesting for us,” Meir said. “This is just us doing our job. We’ve been training for six years, so it’s coming up here and doing our job.”
“At the same time, 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 are today.”
“I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing and that in the past, women haven’t always been at the table,” Koch added.
“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.”