Words Matter: The All Female Spacewalk
By Lily Amirzadeh
On Friday, October 18th of 2019, NASA had an all-female spacewalk. Spacewalks normally pass by without a whisper from the newspapers, but this one was heavily covered by media outlets as it was NASA’s very first all-female spacewalk. It was carried out by astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir on the International Space Station, in order to replace a failing battery charge/discharge unit. They exited at around 7:50 a.m. ET and the spacewalk lasted for 7 hours and 17 minutes. During this time, they successfully completed the task they set out to do, and some other general maintenance tasks such as improving the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. There was little coverage on what actually happened, and it was described as uneventful. However, Koch was given the opportunity to ride on a robotic arm, which is exciting because it is rare to be able to do that.
In the previous week, the International Space Station put in lithium-ion batteries, and the specific charge/discharge unit never managed to activate. So, the two women had to go out to fix it to ensure batteries could function properly. If they had not done so, then the batteries would not have been able to supply the International Space Station with the power that it needs. No one on the ISS would have been in any danger, though. Everyone was still safe, but the spacewalk was necessary to make sure that they could receive all the benefits from the station’s new batteries.
According to NASA, the fact that the spacewalk was done entirely by women was completely unplanned. They did not specifically schedule this walk to be the first one completely conducted by women. Koch and Meir are both happy to see that women are increasingly entering STEM careers. Meir said that “To me, that kind of gender equality and inclusion is the way to get the job done for a successful mission.” It is so inspiring to see such accomplished women speaking about how important gender equality, especially in the field of science. There are hopes that all-female spacewalks will eventually become more routine as more women become astronauts as NASA continues to become more equally divided between men and women. For example, Koch and Meir were both a part of the first astronaut class to be fifty percent women. This is a great improvement for gender equality in a field generally dominated by men; hopefully historic events like these continue.
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