Two Giant Leaps For Womankind

Two Giant Leaps For Womankind

Two female NASA astronauts made space history by completing the first-ever spacewalk by an all-woman team. Though the all-woman spacewalk wasn't something NASA purposefully planned it was bound to happen eventually because of the milestones made by women who paved the way to space.

Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya

Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to do a spacewalk on July 25, 1984, outside the space station Salyut-7. For 3 hours and 35 minutes, she had to cut and weld metals in space which she later described as daring for the risk of burning the spacesuits or the exterior of the station are high. Savitskaya’s inclusion on the mission paved way for future female spacewalker.

Svetlana Savitskaya said, "…When watching the Earth from over there, one can see the results of human activities, not just a beautiful bluish habitable planet, but because one can see just how habitable it is, with all of its floodlit streets and avenues, and its huge cities. One can see this both at night and in the daytime. And secondly, anyone over there, in orbit, should give, and actually gives, a thought to the fact that they are at an average altitude of 400 kilometers, aboard a space station or a spacecraft that have been manufactured by human mind and human civilization, so one can't help but feel proud of them. One realizes that this planet is their home. One may even land on water, somewhere in the world Ocean, still the planet is their home. One has a natural psychological wish to return to earth, to their home. When in orbit, one thinks of the whole of the earth, rather than of one's country, as one's home."

'After this mission, no one could say that being a cosmonaut is a man's job only. They wouldn’t dare to'

Her accomplishments immediately prompted NASA to also put a woman for spacewalk. This task was carried out by Astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan who would become the first American woman to perform a spacewalk on October 11, 1984, roughly 2 and an a half months after Cosmonaut Savitskaya. Since then women have participated in 42 spacewalks. Of the 15 women who have done spacewalks, 14 have been NASA astronauts.

Sally Ride, right, and astronaut Kathryn Sullivan synchronise their watches in the “white room” before entering the shuttle Challenger to launch on mission STS-41G on 5 October 1984

Astronaut Kathryn Sullivan

Astronaut Kathryn Sullivan on Oct. 11, 1984 Spacewalk

The first all-female spacewalk was on the verge of making history on Friday, March 29, 2019, where NASA astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were scheduled to take a spacewalk together. However, since her journey to ISS in December 2018, McClain had grown 2 inches (5 cm) due to microgravity. Meaning that the crew had to rebuild the suit with spare parts that would require about 12 hours of preparation and facing uncertain technical risks. The current Spacewalk assignments are always made on the basis of which astronauts are best prepared to accomplish the tasks at hand under the conditions at the time. With upmost safety in mind for the astronauts, NASA announced that astronaut Nick Hague would be taking McClain's place, scrapping what would have been the first all-female spacewalk because of safety concerns due to a lack of appropriately-sized spacesuits at the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain assists fellow NASA astronauts Christina Koch (left) and Nick Hague as they verify their U.S. spacesuits are sized correctly and fit properly ahead of a set of upcoming spacewalks.

Though it was not purposefully planned by NASA, October 18, 2019, marked the First All-Female Space Walk in history completed by Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir. With Koch's on her fourth spacewalk and Meir's first spacewalk.

Christina Kosh

NASA astronauts Christina Koch (left) and Jessica Meir test their spacesuits for their historic Oct. 18, 2019 spacewalk.

Both astronauts were classmates in astronaut group nicknamed the "Eight Balls" which made up of 50 percent women making it the highest percentage of women of any group of astronaut candidates to date.

The spacewalk would officially begin once both astronauts switched to battery power in their spacesuits. Koch and Meir worked together to replace the BCDU, a 230-pound replacement battery charger in the lab's solar power system that are used to charge the station's batteries.

Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir carried out history's first all-female spacewalk on Friday 18 October 2019

During the spacewalk, the two astronauts received a call from the White House.

Meir said, 'We hope that we can provide an inspiration to everybody, not only women, but to everybody that has a dream, that has a big dream, and who is willing to work hard ... this is my first flight and my very first spacewalk, so it is a pretty incredible feeling I'm sure you can all imagine, and it's one I will never forget.For us it’s just coming out here and doing our job today. We were the crew that was tasked with this assignment... At the same time we recognize that it is a historic achievement and we do, of course, want to give credit to all those that came before us.'

Koch said, 'In the end, I do think it’s important, and I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing. In the past women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the space program at a time when all contributions are being accepted when everyone has a role. That can lead in turn to increased chance for success. There are a lot of people who derive motivation from inspiring stories of people who look like them, and I think it’s an important story to tell.'

Astronauts who had done Spacewalks had describe it being as the most physically challenging thing they do. Women astronauts have proven time and time again that they are equally as qualified as their male astronauts. The first all-woman spacewalk is a major milestone for all womenkind, it also plays an important role in paving way for future female astronauts of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program that will put the first woman on the Moon by 2024 - the beginning of next giant leap for humankind to Mars.

Cover photo: TASS / Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya

All photo credit: NASA (unless otherwise stated)

Words by Buranee Soh

Share this article