The world’s first female spacewalking team made history high above Earth.
NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, whose father is Israeli, exited the International Space Station on Friday, the first time in a half-century of spacewalking that a woman floated out without a male crewmate. Their job was to fix a broken part of the station’s solar power network.
America’s first female spacewalker from 35 years ago, Kathy Sullivan, was delighted. She said it was good to finally have enough women in the astronaut corps and trained for spacewalking for this to happen.
“We’ve got qualified women running the control, running space centers, commanding the station, commanding spaceships and doing spacewalks,” Sullivan told The Associated Press earlier this week. “And golly, gee whiz, every now and then there’s more than one woman in the same place.”
Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a three-time spacewalker who watched from Mission Control, added: “Hopefully, this will now be considered normal.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine watched the big event unfold from NASA headquarters in Washington.
“We have the right people doing the right job at the right time,” he said. “They are an inspiration to people all over the world including me. And we’re very excited to get this mission underway.”
NASA originally planned an all-female spacewalk last spring, but had to cancel it because of a shortage of readily available medium-size suits. Koch helped assemble an extra medium suit over the summer.
Since the first spacewalk in 1965, there have been 227 spacewalkers, only 14 of them women. Meir, a Swedish-US national who is Jewish, became No. 15. All but one of these women has been American.
Last week, astronauts conducted the first two of five spacewalks to replace old batteries that make up the station’s solar power network. The remaining spacewalks — originally scheduled for this week and next — have been delayed for at least another few weeks so engineers can determine why the battery charger failed. It’s the second such failure this year.
The devices regulate the amount of charge going to and from each battery. One didn’t kick in Friday night, preventing one of the three newly installed lithium-ion batteries from working. The balky charger is 19 years old; the one that failed in the spring was almost as old. Only three spares remain available.
Despite the slight loss of power, the orbiting lab and its six occupants are safe, according to NASA, and science operations are unaffected.