First All-Women Spacewalk Scheduled For Friday

Astronauts Christina Koch (left) and Jessica Meir (right) (Photo: NASA)

NASA has rescheduled its first all-women spacewalk for Friday.

The milestone was initially scheduled for this past autumn, but spacesuit troubles forced NASA to scrap the event. United States astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will leave the International Space Station in order to replace a failed power controller.

NASA TV coverage of the spacewalk will begin at 8:30pm AEST, October 18. The spacewalk is scheduled for 9:50pm AEST. You can watch it here:

Though there have been over 200 spacewalks outside the ISS, all have consisted of two men or a man and a women, and women only make up around 10 per cent of the people who have been to space.

NASA had hoped to buck the trend on March 29, when Koch was to join U.S. astronaut Anne McClain on a spacewalk. However, following her first spacewalk, Koch realised her spacesuit was too large and was uncomfortable to manoeuvre in, and a smaller suit couldn’t be configured in time for the history-making event.

Meir and Koch will now complete the all-women spacewalk in order to replace failed battery units responsible for regulating the amount of charge that goes into the station’s solar-powered batteries.

These walks are important milestones, demonstrating that NASA has now integrated enough women into its astronaut corps that an all-women spacewalk is possible, Margaret Weitekamp, curator and department chair of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Space History Department, told Gizmodo.

This follows decades of social, societal and legislative changes that allowed women to pursue opportunities previously unavailable to them, notably Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the more recent lifting of combat exclusion policies for women in the military.

“I think this achievement stands on the shoulders of generations of women who have been working to enter these professions,” Weitekamp said.

But there is far more work to do — today’s 38 active astronauts comprise only 12 women, even though women make up half the country’s population. Astronauts are typically the top of a pyramid of extraordinary resumes, many having earned their Ph.Ds or served in high-ranking military positions. Every step up this pyramid includes hurdles that disproportionately prevent women and people of colour from getting ahead.

This includes a history of poor maternity leave and child care policies compared to other countries, biases in evaluations and job searches and biases in how resources are allocated.

Perhaps most of all, this spacewalk is important for inspiring the next generation of scientists who will now see such achievements as possible or even typical. As astronaut Sally Ride once said, “Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday.”

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