The First All-Female Spacewalk

Akanksha Joshi - 1B Biomedical
Posted on: March 27, 2019

Friday, March 29 will be yet another historic day for spaceflight as the first ever all-female spacewalk is scheduled to take place on the International Space Station. American astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch will mark a momentous step forward as they step out of the International Space Station (ISS) to work on upgrades to the outside of the station in what will be a huge milestone for women in STEM.

The current six-member crew onboard the ISS constitutes Expedition 59, with Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin and Oleg Kononenko, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, and NASA astronauts Nick Hague, Anne McClain, and Christina Koch. The purpose of Expedition 59 is to conduct experiments on Earth’s atmospheric carbon cycle, the effects of aging and disease on tissue, as well as run tests on robots designed to perform routine chores onboard the Space Station. This expedition is the very first spaceflight for Saint-Jacques, McClain, and Koch, who are flight engineers onboard the ISS. Hague, Ovchinin, and Koch officially marked the beginning of the expedition after arriving at the station on March 14 (Pi Day) in the Soyuz rocket, having launched at (you guessed it) 3:14 PM from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Having been operational for twenty years, the space station is constantly in need of upgrades to its protective exterior, which is why spacewalks are an integral part of all expeditions to the ISS. McClain and Koch’s spacewalk will be the second of three planned maintenance spacewalks as part of continuous upgrades to the orbital laboratory. The first will take place on March 22 and will be conducted by McClain and Hague as they begin work to upgrade the station’s power system. The second, to be conducted by McClain and Koch on the 29th, will complete upgrades to power channels. The final spacewalk will be conducted by Hague and Saint-Jacques on April 8 to install hardware for a future science platform. All three are important spacewalks, no doubt, and are made even more momentous thanks to the two female spacewalkers.

Christina Koch grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and attended North Carolina State University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and physics, as well as a master’s degree in electrical engineering. She graduated from the NASA Academy program at Goddard Space Flight Centre in 2001, and worked there as an electrical engineer focusing on instrument design. Some of her research has involved working as a field engineering at remote scientific research stations in the Arctic, the South Pole, and American Samoa. She was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2013, and completed candidate training in 2015. Anne McClain was born and raised in Spokane Washington, and graduated from the United States Military Academy with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. She also holds a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Bath, and a master’s degree in international security from the University of Bristol. In addition to her already impressive CV, she has logged over 2,000 hours on various military helicopters as a test pilot. Along with Koch, McClain was selected to be a NASA astronaut in 2013, and completed her training in 2015.

This spacewalk will mark the perfect end to women’s history month, and will be the first of many milestones to be made for women in space. Canada will not be left out of the spacewalk either, as Canadian Space Agency flight controller Kristen Facciol will be supporting the spacewalk from the ground in NASA’s Johnson Space Centre. The lead flight director and the lead EVA flight controller are also supposed to be women. This goes to show that in today’s world, more and more women are pursuing the STEM fields, and are making breakthroughs that will propel us towards the future of tomorrow. Good luck Anne and Christina!

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