The walk lasted seven hours and 17 minutes, and included a brief call with President Donald Trump.
Such a walk was supposed to take place in March, but it was postponed because NASA did not have two appropriately sized spacesuits available. That sparked an outcry — and a “Saturday Night Live” spoof — about the legacy of sexism in the space program.
On Friday, live video of the event, which began just before 8 a.m. Eastern, showed two bulky white figures — first Koch, then Meir — working outside of the space station, which glowed against the blackness of space.
The women could be heard talking to each other, and helmet cameras showed the view as they clambered along the outside of the space station.
At one point, Meir could be seen crossing beneath the dangling feet of Koch. “Right beneath your feet, so don’t move down,” she said.
Trump called into the space station to congratulate the crew on their achievement around 12:30 p.m. Eastern, describing the two as “brave, brilliant women.”
“Our country is very proud of you,” he said.
The president was joined by Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Ivanka Trump, Trump’s daughter. He said in his remarks that it was “the first time for a woman outside of the space station,” an inaccuracy that Meir gently corrected. She is the 15th woman to do a spacewalk. But until Friday, all of those astronauts had been paired with male colleagues.
“This is really just us doing our jobs,” Meir said, adding that credit was owed to the female explorers, scientists, engineers and astronauts who came before her.
The call lasted about five minutes.
Cmdr. Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Andrew Morgan, a NASA astronaut, assisted the spacewalkers from the space station. Parmitano controlled a robotics arm used in their mission, while Morgan provided airlock and spacesuit support
Meir and Koch had planned to install lithium-ion batteries on Oct. 21, but the timeline was hastened after a power controller failed last weekend. The controller, which regulates the batteries that distribute power to the station, had been in operation for 19 years and will be replaced. The agency said the failure had no impact on the crew’s safety or continuing experiments.
Here’s What Happened in March
Koch had been scheduled to carry out a March 29 spacewalk with Anne McClain, a decorated astronaut and lieutenant colonel in the Army.
But both of the women needed medium-size torso components for the spacewalk, and only one was available. McClain said she had initially thought she would be able to work in a larger size. But after doing a spacewalk in a medium size with her colleague Nick Hague on March 22, she realized that was a better fit. There was not enough time to properly configure a second medium-size torso component, and McClain recommended sending Hague in her place.
For some observers, the change underscored the challenges faced by women in the space program and other fields where equipment has historically been designed with men in mind. Women were not admitted into the astronaut program until 1978, and an American woman did not fly into space until Sally Ride did so in 1983. (Two Soviet women preceded her.) The first spacewalk took place in 1965, and in 1984, Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first American woman to perform one.
McClain returned to Earth in June after 204 days in space, including two spacewalks with male colleagues totaling 13 hours and 8 minutes. (McClain’s domestic troubles also made headlines this summer, after she was accused of gaining access to her estranged wife’s bank account from space. She denies any wrongdoing.)
NASA noted that the all-woman spacewalk was never purposefully planned — and generated much more public interest than spacewalks normally do.
This Is the Current Lineup
Meir and Koch, the astronauts on Friday’s spacewalk, were both part of NASA’s 2013 class of astronaut trainees. The eight-member class was the first to include equal numbers of men and women. (Hague and McClain were also part of that class.)
Meir grew up in Caribou, Maine, according to her official NASA biography. She holds a master’s degree from the International Space University, near Strasbourg, France, and a doctorate in marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. She has researched human physiology for Lockheed Martin and worked as an aquanaut in an underwater habitat, among other posts.
Meir arrived at the International Space Station at the end of September, and posted photos of joyful hugs as she greeted her colleagues. Friday’s spacewalk was her first.
Koch, a Michigan native, grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and most recently lived in Livingston, Montana, according to her official biography. She holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University. Before becoming an astronaut, she worked in space science instrument development and remote scientific field engineering for NASA and the United States Antarctic Program, among other institutions.
She is on track to break the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, with an expected 328 days in space if she returns to Earth in February, as scheduled. Friday’s outing was her fourth spacewalk.
In an interview with NASA TV this month, Koch was asked if she was bothered that her accomplishments were often talked about in terms of her gender, or whether she believed it was important to mark milestones.
“That is something I’ve done a lot of thinking and reflecting on,” she said. “And in the end, I do think it’s important. And I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing and that in the past women haven’t always been at the table.”
Koch said that it was “wonderful” to be a part of the space program at a time “when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role, and that can lead in turn to an increased chance for success.” She added that “it’s an important aspect of the story to tell” because many people derive motivation from inspiring stories of people who look like them.
So What Size Suits Did They Wear?
Spacesuits are essentially mini-spaceships, built for one of the most dangerous tasks during an astronaut’s mission. There are six aboard the International Space Station, and they are individually configured for each astronaut, taking into account more than 80 body measurements, Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokeswoman, said in an email.
“The suit has three sizes of upper torso, eight sizes of adjustable elbows, over 65 sizes of gloves, two sizes of adjustable waists, five sizes of adjustable knees and a vast array of padding options for almost every part of the body,” she wrote.
Both women had medium-size torso components for Friday’s spacewalk, and the two male spacewalkers aboard the station also use that size, Schierholz said.
The suits were originally designed more than 40 years ago. But NASA is developing new ones as part of its Artemis program, which aims to put the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024 — and then send astronauts to Mars.
NASA officials unveiled two new spacesuit prototypes at the agency’s headquarters in Washington on Tuesday. The new suits feature advanced communications capabilities and protect astronauts from the extreme environment of space while allowing them to move with greater ease.
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