Friday’s All-Woman Spacewalk: The Basics

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch are inside the Quest airlock preparing the U.S. spacesuits and tools they will use on their first spacewalk together. (Credit: NASA)

Update: The astronauts have completed their 7h 17m spacewalk and have reentered the space station.

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Friday’s all-woman spacewalk is generating public interest we normally don’t get for a spacewalk. Here are the basics on the spacewalk itself, how to watch and how to participate in the conversation.

Why is this spacewalk significant?

Although it’s the 221st spacewalk performed in support of space station assembly, it’s the first to be conducted entirely by women, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir (at left above) and Christina Koch (at right above). It’s the first spacewalk for Meir; she’ll become the 15th woman overall and 14th U.S. woman to spacewalk.

What’s the importance of an all-woman spacewalk?

The first all-woman spacewalk is a milestone worth noting and celebrating as the agency looks forward to putting the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 with NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program. Our achievements provide inspiration to students around the world, proving that hard work can lead you to great heights, and all students should be able to see themselves in those achievements.

When asked in an interview about the importance of conducting her mission and this spacewalk, 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.”

The all-woman spacewalk wasn’t something we purposefully planned, though. It was bound to happen eventually because of the increasing number of female astronauts. Koch’s and Meir’s 2013 class of astronaut candidates was 50 percent women.

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. Spacewalks are not easy; astronauts typically describe them as the most physically challenging thing they do.

Was the previously planned all-woman spacewalk in March with Christina Koch and Anne McClain scrubbed because of a spacesuit size issue, and could something similar prevent it again?  

The spacewalk planned for March 29 did happen, but we made a change in the astronauts to protect the safety of the crew and the timing of the mission. Anne McClain made the decision to swap places with Nick Hague on the spacewalks planned for March 29 and April 8 so everyone could wear spacesuits that fit them best. The spacesuits had been configured for the spacewalks as originally planned and also as replanned in 2018 before they were delayed to 2019. In anticipation of 10 planned spacewalks this fall in which all four spacewalkers prefer a medium hard upper torso, the astronauts reconfigured a second spacesuit with a medium hard upper torso.

What will Koch and Meir do on the spacewalk?

The astronauts will replace a battery charge/discharge unit that failed to activate after new lithium-ion batteries were installed on the space station’s exterior structure on Oct. 11. The unit is one of several that regulate the charge put into the batteries collecting energy from the station’s solar arrays. Though the unit’s failure has not affected station operations or crew safety, it does prevent the new batteries from providing increased station power.

When will the spacewalk start?

The astronauts will venture outside the International Space Station about 7:50 a.m. EDT Friday. The spacewalk is expected to take five to six hours.

How can I watch the spacewalk?

Live coverage will begin at 6:30 a.m. on NASA Television, the agency’s website and on NASA’s YouTube channel. Updates will be posted to the International Space Station blog.

How can I tell which astronaut is which?

Koch will be wearing the spacesuit with the red stripes, and views from her helmet camera will have the number 18, while Meir’s spacesuit does not have stripes, and her helmet camera view will be number 11. The spacewalk will be the 221st in support of station assembly, maintenance and upgrades and the eighth outside the station this year. This will be Koch’s fourth spacewalk and Meir’s first. Meir will be the 15th woman to spacewalk, and the 14th U.S. woman. NASA astronaut Kathryn Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space in October 1984. Both Koch and Meir, selected as astronaut candidates in 2013, are on their first spaceflight. Koch will remain in space for an extended duration mission of 11 months to provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman to prepare for human missions to the Moon and Mars.

Image GallerySpacewalks through the Years

What else will be happening during the spacewalk?

Commander Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan will assist the spacewalkers. Parmitano will control the Canadarm2 robotics arm and Morgan will provide airlock and spacesuit support.

How can I follow the spacewalk on social media?

Follow @NASA on Twitter, and use the hashtag #AskNASA to submit questions, or watch it on NASA’s Facebook page or on Twitch. NASA’s digital services team will be working with experts to respond to as many questions as they can throughout the day. 

What other roles have women played at NASA?

Women like Koch and Meir continue to play increasingly important roles at NASA, carrying on a tradition that goes back to our earliest days. Three who were essential to building the human spaceflight program — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson of the Langley Research Center — were the subject of the movie “Hidden Figures”. Nancy Grace Roman was NASA’s first chief of astronomy, and Margaret Hamilton led the team that wrote the software for the Apollo moon landings. In 2019, more and more women are leading the way at NASA.