Two female astronauts made history in NASA’s first all-female spacewalk
NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history months after the first all-female spacewalk was supposed to take place with Anne McClain. USA TODAY
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Men have floated out the hatch on all 420 spacewalks conducted over the past half-century.
That changed Friday with spacewalk No. 421.
NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir ventured outside the International Space Station before 8 a.m. ET Friday and repaired a broken battery charger, or BCDU, at 11:06 a.m. ET.
Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston declared the spacewalk, which took around seven hours, over 90 minutes longer than originally anticipated, a success. The space station was back to full power after the BCDU was installed.
President Donald J. Trump called Koch and Meir, who were still outside the station completing the replacement, from the White House Roosevelt Room on Friday.
Flanked between Vice President Mike Pence and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, as well as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Trump suggested that this was the first time a female astronaut had gone on a spacewalk.
“This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station,” Trump said. “They’re conducting the first ever spacewalk to replace an exterior part of the space station.”
Russian astronaut Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to walk in space in 1984. Russia also holds claim to the first spacewalk in 1965. The U.S. trailed by a few months in each instance.
"We don't want to take too much credit because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time there have been two women outside at the same time," one of the women told the president.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also sent congratulated Koch and Meir “for leaving their mark on history," tweeting that they’re an inspiration to women and girls across America.
As the seven-hour spacewalk drew to a close, Mission Control declared success, informing the astronauts that the new charger seemed to be working and the space station was back to full power. The women dragged in the broken unit so it can be returned to Earth early next year for analysis.
The units regulate how much energy flows from the station's massive solar panels to battery units, which are used to provide power during nighttime passes around Earth. Three previous spacewalks had been planned to replace lithium-ion batteries, but those will be rescheduled until the latest BCDU issue is resolved.
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The hardware failure does present some concern, especially since another BCDU was replaced in April and there are only four more backups on the station. In total, there are 24 operational BCDUs.
The battery charger failed after Koch and a male crewmate installed new batteries outside the space station last week. NASA put the remaining battery replacements on hold to fix the problem and moved up the women's planned spacewalk by three days.
All four men aboard the ISS remained inside during Friday's spacewalk.
The spacewalk is Koch's fourth and Meir's first.
Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who narrated NASA's livestream of the historic event, expressed hope at the possibility that all-female spacewalks become routine.
“Hopefully, this will now be considered normal," she said.
They also weren't the only women working this spacewalk. Down in Mission Control, space shuttle astronaut Stephanie Wilson served as CAPCOM, or ground-based communicator, for both Koch and Meir.
The planned EVA comes almost seven months since the first all-female spacewalk was canceled due to a lack of properly sized spacesuits for astronauts Koch and Anne McClain. Astronaut Nick Hague ended up joining Koch instead.
But this time, the right spacesuit hardware was in place.
Schoolteachers and parents shared photos of their students celebrating "HERstory in the making," including two young sisters who made a sign that said "Go girls go" and a group of middle schoolers with a long sign reading "The sky is not the limit!!!"
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Meir, a marine biologist who arrived at the orbiting lab last month, is the 15th female spacewalker. Koch, an electrical engineer, is currently seven months into an 11-month spaceflight that will be the longest by a woman.
As the space agency prepares to send American astronauts once again to the moon through the Artemis program and eventually on to Mars, seeing more women in space and conducting spacewalks might very well be the new norm, according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
"We could very well see the first person on Mars be a woman," Bridenstine said. "Women have stepped up and done amazing work on behalf of our country. There's more progress to be made, but we're making it."
Contributing: Emre Kelly, Florida Today; Courtney Subramanian, John Fritze, Joshua Bote, USA TODAY; Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez and Antonia Jaramillo on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT and @AntoniaJ_11