Two women made history in yet another male-dominated field. Astronauts, and really pilots of any kind, have been predominantly male. That’s not to say that we don’t appreciate the men who risk their lives going up into space, but it’s always nice to see some diversity.
On October 18, 2019, Jessica Meir and Christina Koch completed the first-ever all-female spacewalk. There were some hurdles along the way to get into the program, not to mention space suit sizing issues, but Meir and Koch didn’t let that stop them from making history.
Yuri Gargarin Was The First Person In Space
On April 12, 1961, Soviet Air Forces pilot Yuri Gargarin was the first person to ever journey to space. This venture was a major milestone in the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 20th-century. His capsule Vostok 1 completed one orbit around Earth, making him an international celebrity overnight. He was awarded many medals and titles, including the Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honor.
Vostok 1 was Gargain’s only spaceflight, but he served as the backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission, which ended in a fatal crash.
Yuri Gargarin Passed Away Seven Years Later
Sadly, only a short seven years later, Yuri and his flight instructor, Vladimir Seryogin, crashed while piloting a plane in bad weather. He was only 34 years old. Thankfully, his legacy still lives on, his ashes mixed into the foundation of the Kremlin wall.
The wall is ritually visited by space flight crews prior to their departure for Baikonur Cosmodrome, the spaceport located in an area of southern Kazakhstan that is leased to Russia. It is also the world’s first and largest operational space facility. In the following years, many astronauts decided to follow in Gargarin’s footsteps, venturing to space.
Seven American Astronauts Completed Project Mercury
Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program for the United States, running from 1958 through 1963. Its goal was to put a man into orbit around the Earth and return safely home, ideally before the Soviet Union.
The team was called the “Mercury Seven,” and each spacecraft was given a name ending with “7” by the pilot. The seven were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil Grissom, Walter M. Schirra Jr., Alan B. Shepard Jr., and Donald K. Slayton. Shepard became the first American in space and was the only one of the seven to walk on the moon.
NASA Was Founded The Same Year As Project Mercury
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is part of the United States Federal Government. The agency is responsible for the civilian space program as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. It was established in 1958, and since its founding, the program has launched major missions, such as the Apollo moon landing.
NASA supports the International Space Station and oversees the development of the Space Launch System, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and Commercial Crew vehicles. You won’t believe what happens on the International Space Station.
The International Space Station Is A Joint Project
Traveling at 17,500 miles per hour and at an altitude of 220 miles, The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station that is in low Earth orbit. The program is a joint project between five space agencies: United States’ NASA, Russia’s Roscosmos, Japan’s JAXA, Europe’s ESA, and Canada’s CSA.
The station acts as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory that allows crew members to conduct experiments in several scientific fields. Each mission lasts around six months, in which time the astronauts stay aboard the station, leaving only to perform spacewalks.
The First Spacewalk Was In 1965
Each year NASA conducts a spacewalk, also called an EVA, which stands for extracurricular activity. This means that an astronaut gets out of the spacecraft in open space. The first person to ever perform a spacewalk was Alexei Leonov, a Russian astronaut who took the risk on March 18, 1965, during the Vockhod 2 mission. His “walk” lasted 10 minutes.
The first American to do a spacewalk was Ed White, on June 3, 1965, during the Gemini 4 mission, and lasted 23 minutes. These EVAs can either be tethered or untethered. The later only being performed on three missions (probably for a good reason!).
Spacewalks Are Still Done Today
Spacewalks are still a common occurrence for astronauts. They will typically go on the walks outside the International Space Station. The walks last anywhere between five to eight hours, depending on the job that needs to be done. But there is one noticeable trait between all of the astronauts.
Like most airline pilots, it is a common trend that a majority of astronauts and teams that go off to space are primarily male. As noted by News Scientist, the industry is predominantly designed for and tested by men and has struggled to understand and accommodate the different needs of women.
It’s A Man’s World And Apparently A Man’s Outer World
In the early years of space travel, it was often advised that women not operate any complicated machinery while they were menstruating. When the first female astronaut, Sally Ride, was going on a week-long stay in space, she was offered 100 tampons along with a makeup bag.
Needless to say, male scientists had no clue how to work with women in the field. Even today, space radiation shields designed for women don’t fit the female body very well.
Sally Ride Joined NASA In 1978
Sally ride was an American astronaut and physicist, joining NASA in 1978 and becoming the first female in space in 1983. Overall, she was the third woman in space, right behind two Soviets, Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya, and remains the youngest astronaut ever to have traveled to space, going at the age of 34.
After flying twice on the Orbiter Challenger, she left NASA in 1987 to teach at Stanford University’s Center for International Security Arms Control, and then as the University of California, San Diego as a physics professor.
Ken Bowersox Explains Why Only 15 Woman Have Been On A Spacewalk
Only 15 women have ever been on a spacewalk. Sally Ride was not one of them. And none of them have ever done so without the presence of a man on the spacecraft. This is out of 200 spacewalks that have been completed by both astronauts and cosmonauts.
Ken Bowersox of NASA says, “It’s a little bit like playing in the NBA. You know, I’m too short to play in the NBA, and sometimes physical characteristics make a difference in certain activities. And spacewalks are one of those areas where just how your body is built in shape, it makes a difference in how well you can work a suit.”
One Giant Leap For Womankind!
On October 18, 2019, the first-ever all-female spacewalk led by an all-female team was completed. It marked the 221st spacewalk in support of the space station’s maintenance and assembly. Since cosmonaut Svetlana Saviskaya became the first woman to do a spacewalk in 1984, women have participated in 42 EVAs. Out of the 15 women who have done a spacewalk, only 14 of them were NASA astronauts.
Jessica Meir, one of the women, 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…”
The 2019 Spacewalk Was Initially Postponed
The spacewalk was initially scheduled to take place more than six months ago, in March, involving astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir. The reason for the delay was because NASA did not have enough correctly sized space suits available and ready to use on the ISS.
This wouldn’t do. There was only one size medium suit available and both women needed it. It just goes to show how it is a male-dominated field, and that women are a bit overlooked in situations such as EVAs. Thankfully, a little suit mishap didn’t stop these two ladies!
Jessica Meir’s First Spacewalk Was October 2019
Jessica Meir is a force of nature, as a marine biologist, physiologist, and NASA astronaut. She first started her career with NASA in 2000 for Lockheed Martin Space Operations as an experiment support scientist for the Human Research Facility. It wasn’t until 2009 that Meir was close to what she’d always dreamed of.
In 2009, Meir was a semi-finalist for selection to NASA astronaut Group 20, and in 2013 she was selected as one of the eight candidates for training in NASA Astronaut Group 21. She completed training in 2015 and made her first expedition to space in 2019, during the all-female spacewalk.
Christina Koch Is A Skilled Engineer
Christina Koch is an engineer and graduated from the NASA Academy Program at Goddard Space Flight Center in 2001. In June 2013, she was selected, along with Meir, to be part of Astronaut Group 21. She completed training for the group in 2015, making her readily available for future missions.
On March 14, 2019, Koch launched to ISS on Soyuz MS-12 to join Expedition 59/60/61. Koch was scheduled to perform her first EVA on March 29, in what was supposed to be the first all-female spacewalk. Due to suit measurement issues, the walk was awarded to her male partners. The all-female spacewalk was rescheduled for October with Jessica Meir.
It’s Important That Space Suits Fit Properly
A space suit is a garment worn by astronauts to keep them alive in the harsh environment of outer space. They are often worn outside of the spacecraft as a safety precaution in case of loss of cabin pressure. These suits are absolutely necessary for EVA work done outside of the aircraft.
It is crucial that these suits fit the person and allow for easy movement. If the suit doesn’t fit it can be very fatiguing for the astronaut. And that is the last thing they want while floating around space!
More And More Women Are Venturing To Space
“It turns out that over the next couple of years, we’re having a lot of medium-suit people fly, and so that’s the sweet spot,” says the program manager for the International Space Station, Kirk Shireman.
Meir and Koch have sparked something in female scientists and astronauts, saying that women can do anything they set their minds to (even if the men in your field don’t give you the right suit measurements). NASA’s program Artemis is aiming to send women to the moon by 2024. It’ll be one small step for women and one giant leap for womenkind.
The Artemis Program Is Set To Launch In 2024
Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting and wild nature, is sure to be the inspiration behind the name “The Artemis Program.” It is an ongoing crew spaceflight program that is being carried out by NASA and international partners such as ESA. The goal of the project is the landing of “the first woman and the next man” on the moon, specifically the lunar south pole region, by 2024.
Artemis would be the next step in the long-term goal of establishing a sustainable presence on the moon, laying the foundation for private companies to build lunar economies, and eventually sending humans to Mars.
The First Female Spacewalk Has Been Highlighted As Historic
Before going to space, the participants of the first-ever female spacewalk were asked how they felt about the possibility of being involved in such an event.
Koch responded, “I do think it’s important, and 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. And it’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted when everyone has a role, and that, in turn, can lead to an increased chance of success.”
Jessica Meir Credited Her Fellow Female Pioneers
Since it was Meir’s first time in space, it is only natural that she acknowledge all who have helped her. “I’m incredibly excited. It’s something that I’ve been dreaming and thinking about for my entire life almost since I was 5 years old, so, still a little bit surreal right now to imagine that it’s finally coming true.”
Meir acknowledged the achievements of all of her fellow female space explorers, past and present, saying, “It’s just normal, we’re part of the team, we’re doing this work as an efficient team working together with everybody else, so it’s really nice to see how far we’ve come.”
The Start Of A New Era
This mission was full of firsts. It was the first all-female mission and it was also the first time astronauts used the new lunar suit. The suit is meant to fix NASA’s sizing issue, as it is a one-size-fits-all garment that is designed for both men and women.
The all-female spacewalk will most likely go down in history as a pivotal point in the planning of NASA’s future projects. What Meir and Koch did was nothing short of inspiring. Here’s to many more females in space!