This morning two NASA astronauts will write history as they put on their space suits and leave the borders of the international space station for a space walk of 6.5 hours. That is because the two astronauts going into space – Christina Koch and Jessica Meir – will perform the first fully feminine space walk in the history of space travel.
View the numbers to get an idea of how big the deal is. Since people went into space, 227 people have left their spaceship and did a kind of space walk. Of that number, only 14 of those people were women. Svetlana Savitskaya, a Soviet cosmonaut, was the first woman to take a space walk in 1984, almost 20 years after the first space walker, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, floated in the vacuum of space. The US followed a few months later and sent NASA astronaut Kathryn Sullivan orbit the Earth outside the Space Shuttle.
But every woman who has ever adapted to the space also has a male counterpart that suits her. No two women have taken space walks with each other, making today's event a major first for NASA – and the world. Koch and Meir have also recognized the impact of their work. "What we are doing now shows all the work that has been done in recent decades, all the women who have worked to take us to where we are now," Meir said during an interview at the space station just before he received news about the assignment.
In reality, this space walk is a bit of a makeover for NASA. The space agency originally planned to send two female astronauts – Koch and Anne McClain – on a space walk in March, an event many space enthusiasts were looking forward to. But a week before the planned outing, NASA announced that McClain would be replaced by her male colleague, Nick Hague, instead. The reason? McClain realized she needed a medium-sized space suit for the trip, and only one medium was ready at the space station. So the suit went to Koch and the already prepared space suit went to The Hague.
Vitriol descended on NASA, with many angry that the space agency lacked enough space suits for women at the ISS. NASA actually did have another medium space suit at the station, but it was a reserve and not fully configured for space walks. Assembling the second middle pack would have taken up to 12 hours and brought risks to the mission, so NASA simply opted to change astronauts. In the end it didn't matter. The damage was done and the world was disappointed. SNL even mocked the decision in a skit.
The dimensions of space suits are now no problem. This year, NASA has launched a medium-sized space suit for the ISS that is fully configured to go into space. Meir and Koch have the dimensions they need without assembly.
Ironic, this one spacewalk was actually relocated, rescheduled from Monday, October 21. The space walk was intended as a series of five planned excursions to replace outdated batteries on the outside of the space station with newer lithium-ion versions. Two of those space walks happened this month without problems. But when flight controllers turned on the newly installed lithium-ion batteries, they noticed that an instrument needed to charge and discharge one of the batteries was not working properly. As a result, the space station loses power on one of the eight power channels used to supply electricity to the ISS. "It's manageable, but again, not something we would like to live with in the long run," said Kenny Todd, the operations integration manager of the International Space Station, at a press conference. So Koch and Meir are charged with replacing this charge / discharge unit and allowing the feed channel to function fully again.
Koch and Meir are ready to turn their suits into battery power at 7:50 am ET on October 18, the start of the journey. As is standard for all NASA space walks, the entire excursion should last approximately 6.5 hours, so there is enough time to view the event throughout the day. If The Atlantic Ocean has noted before, viewing a space walk can be boring but also beautiful. So if you have a slow Friday, take some time off to watch the history in action on NASA TV.