By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Space News
(Editor’s Note: This article was prepared prior to the late Monday announcement by NASA that the first all-female spacewalk had been postponed due to the lack of a second medium-size spacesuit onboard the International Space Station. Christina Koch will instead be joined on the scheduled March 29 spacewalk by Nick Hague. Anne McLain made her first spacewalk with Hague last Friday, March 22.)
On July 17, 1984, during her second space mission, cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya of the Soviet Union became the first woman to perform a spacewalk. She carried out several welding experiments on the outer hull of the Salyut 7 space station. After nearly eight days in space, Savitskaya and her two cosmonaut crewmembers returned safely to Earth.
As Savitskaya said later, “When in orbit, one thinks of the whole of the Earth, rather than of one’s country, as one’s home.”
Now, 35 years later, two American women astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are scheduled to become the first female pair to walk in space.
Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch are scheduled to exit the ISS on March 29. Their spacewalk will be one of the culminating events of Women’s History Month, which celebrates the contributions of women to American history.
By then, McClain will have made her first spacewalk on Friday, March 22. She and astronaut Nick Hague will exit the space station for about six hours beginning at 8:05 a.m. EDT. Their spacewalk will be broadcast live on NASA TV.
Spacewalk Will Be the First Conducted and Supported by All-Female Crew
“As currently scheduled, the March 29 spacewalk will be the first with only women,” NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz told CNN. She said the spacewalk is expected to last about seven hours.
McClain and Koch will be supported on the ground by lead flight director Mary Lawrence and lead spacewalk flight controller Jackie Kagey. Canadian Space Agency flight controller Kristen Facciol will be on the console at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Facciol’s excitement was clear from the tweet she posted: “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.”
McClain, David Saint-James of the Canadian Space Agency and Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos flew to the ISS on the Soyez MS-11 on December 3, 2018. NASA says their mission is scheduled to end in June.
Koch is a new arrival at the ISS. She, Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin arrived at the space station on March 14. They are scheduled to return to Earth early this fall, according to the NASA statement.
First All-Female Spacewalk Is Eagerly Anticipated
“The 2013 class of NASA astronauts was 50% female, so two female astronauts on an EVA [extravehicular activity] was only a matter of time,” said Kristin Drexler, an APUS faculty member in the Natural Sciences department of the School of STEM.
“Two women astronauts conducting a spacewalk on the International Space Station with a woman flight controller at the NASA console, we could not more thrilled. This sends such a great message to women in science, especially the members of wSTEM at APUS. You bet we’ll be watching this historic moment,” she said.
“We’re very proud of all the astronauts, flight controllers and everyone else at NASA. Seeing an increasing percentage of women in these positions of brains, skill and bravery is exactly what our younger women in STEM need to see, and more often,” added Drexler, who also serves as the faculty advisor for the APUS student chapters of wSTEM and the Association of Women in Science.
Emily Roberts, a Space Studies student at APU and vice president of the wSTEM chapter, has been following the spacewalk story since it was first announced. “This will be a truly breathtaking moment,” she said. “As a woman in STEM, it is empowering to see other women make history in what used to be a heavily male-dominated field.”
“I am excited to see the positive effects this will have on young women wanting to pursue their own dreams such as myself,” Roberts added. “It is important for women to be represented and chosen for these opportunities just as often as their male counterparts. I know that I will be watching the spacewalk with my eyes glued to the screen!”
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