After a few setbacks, NASA has finally delivered its historic all-women spacewalk, in one giant leap for womenkind. Astronauts (and BFFs) Christina Koch and Jessica Meir were outside the International Space Station (ISS) for 7 hours and 17 minutes, where the pair replaced a failed power controller. They also completed several other tasks that pave the way for work to be conducted on future spacewalks.
To mark the historic occasion, the pair was congratulated by the US President Donald Trump in a phone call from the White House to the ISS. Trump, unfortunately, appeared to have not paid attention to the details, erroneously congratulating them for being the first-ever female astronauts to perform an Extravehicular Activity (EVA), otherwise known as a spacewalk, in space.
“This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station,” said Trump in the phone call, adding “they’re conducting the first-ever female spacewalk to replace an exterior part of the space station. They’re doing some work, and they’re doing it in a very high altitude — an altitude that very few people will ever see.”
It was indeed Meir's first time outside the ISS, however, this makes her the 15th woman to spacewalk. It was Koch's fourth spacewalk this year.
“We don’t want to take too much credit because there have been many other female spacewalkers before,” Meir politely pointed out during the call. “This is the first time that there’s been two women outside at the same time.”
The first woman to perform a spacewalk was Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya on July 25, 1984, while aboard the Salyut 7 space station. She was followed a few months later by astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan, America's first spacewalking woman, who performed her EVA on October 11, 1984, during the Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-41-G.
The third woman and first woman to complete multiple EVAs was Kathryn Thornton who performed three spacewalks between 1992 and 1993, followed by Linda Godwin who completed one in 1996 and one in 2001. The female astronauts with a still-impressive single EVA under their belts include Tamara Jerningan (1999), Susan Helms (2001), Nicole P. Stott (2009), Kathleen Rubins (2016), and Anne McClaine (2019).
McClaine was scheduled to perform the first all-women spacewalk back in March along with Koch, but it was cancelled due to the lack of appropriately sized EVA suits, and Koch went on to perform it with astronaut Nick Hague instead.
The remaining four women on the list are all veterans of multiple spacewalks. Tracy Caldwell Dyson completed three EVAs, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper performed five, and Sunita Williams performed seven EVAs, totaling almost 51 hours outside the Space Station. The record-holder though is Peggy Whitson who performed 10 spacewalks for a cumulative time of 60 hours and 21 minutes.
Koch is set to break Whitson's record of longest spaceflight of a woman in space in February 2020, thanks to an extended stay on the ISS. Whitson's current record is 288 days, set in 2017. Koch's record will be just under the longest consecutive stay in space ever, as completed by astronaut Scott Kelly (340 days) in 2016.