The first all-female spacewalk is happening next week

Source: Iceland Space Agency

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are scheduled to perform the first all-female spacewalk next Monday (October 21), as part of a series of repairs and installations to the ISS.

“@Space_Station update: our first all-female spacewalk with @Astro_Christina and @Astro_Jessica will be Thursday or Friday to replace a faulty battery charge-discharge unit,” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said via Twitter. More details will be relayed during a press conference later today, he added.

Notably, the spacewalk was scheduled for a later date. However, a failure in one of the orbiting lab’s power controllers over the weekend prompted the space agency to reschedule the momentous spacewalk next Monday, NASA officials announced today (October 15).

The power glitch is a repeat issue that occurred in April after a battery-pack swap, NASA officials said during a press conference today. The failed battery charge/discharge unit (BCDU) will come back to Earth a few months from now aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule, and engineers will inspect the hardware to determine the cause. NASA is set to compare if the issue affiliates on both units.

Notably, the mission is historic as it’s the first of its kind. To date, only 15 women have ever conducted a spacewalk, and all of them have male companions.

The all-female spacewalk was initially scheduled to happen last March and was to involve Koch and NASA astronaut Anne McClain. However, it came to light that the ISS lacked sufficient and appropriate spacesuits for women to perform spacewalk operations. The insufficiency triggered a public call for new designs.

Currently, the spacesuits that NASA uses are operational EVA spacesuits made 40 years ago. Some parts of the spacesuits were proven increasingly challenging to refurbish since the 2011 retirement of the space shuttle program, which could easily transport suits to and from Earth.

In time for the impromptu spacewalk mission assigned to the astronauts, NASA unveiled the new spacesuit designs in a press conference.

“To be clear, Christine is wearing a spacesuit that will fit all of our astronauts,” a NASA official said during the unveiling event inside the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.

“This is the first suit we’ve designed in about 40 years,” Chris Hansen, a manager at NASA’s spacesuit design office, said.

“What you saw today was a prototype of the pressure garment. The life support system is back in a lab in Houston,” he said. “We want systems that allow our astronauts to be scientists on the surface of the moon.” 

The new suits make it much easier to walk, bend, and squat when walking on the lunar surface, Amy Ross, NASA’s lead spacesuit engineer, said.

McClain, who came back to Earth in June, had kind words for Koch, Meir, and their colleagues aboard the orbiting lab.

“Third spacewalk in a busy season of spacewalks this week. [The] date is unknown [because] the task was unforeseen: replacing a unit that failed during power-ups of new batteries. Very good that we have 4 expert spacewalkers on board to shoulder this tough task. They are the A-team!” McClain said via Twitter today.

Six people are serving on the space station’s current Expedition 61: Koch, Meir, and fellow NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan; Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka; and the European Space Agency’s Luca Parmitano, who commands the mission.

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