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UPDATES: All-Female Spacewalk

Mark Garcia & Catherine Ragin Williams |
October 21, 2019

Updated: 10/18

At 2:55 p.m. EDT, Expedition 61 Flight Engineers Christina Koch and Jessica Meir of NASA concluded their spacewalk, the first with only women. During the 7-hour, 17-minute spacewalk, the two NASA astronauts completed the replacement a failed power charging component, also known as a battery charge-discharge unit (BCDU). The BCDU regulates the charge to the batteries that collect and distribute solar power to the orbiting lab’s systems. Mission control activated the newly installed BCDU and reported it is operating properly.

The astronauts were also able to accomplish some get-ahead tasks including installation of a stanchion on the Columbus module for support of a new external ESA (European Space Agency) payload platform called Bartolomeo scheduled for launch to the station in 2020.

Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA and NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan assisted the spacewalkers. Parmitano operated the Canadarm2 robotics arm and Morgan provided airlock and spacesuit support.

It was the eighth spacewalk outside the station this year. Space station crew members have now conducted 221 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have spent a total of 57 days, 20 hours, and 29 minutes working outside the station.

It was the first spacewalk for Meir and the fourth for Koch, who now has spent a total of 27 hours and 48 minutes spacewalking. It is the first spaceflight for both women, who were selected in the 2013 astronaut class that had equal numbers of women and men. Koch arrived to the orbiting laboratory in March 2019 and will remain in space for an extended duration mission of 11 months to provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman to prepare for human missions to the Moon and Mars.

Meir became the 15th woman to spacewalk, and the 14th U.S. woman. It was the 43rd spacewalk to include a woman. Women have been performing spacewalks since 1984, when Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya spacewalked in July and NASA astronaut Kathryn Sullivan spacewalked in October.

The faulty BCDU is due to return to Earth on the next SpaceX Dragon resupply ship for inspection. Station managers will reschedule the three battery replacement spacewalks for a future date. In the meantime, the five planned spacewalks to repair a cosmic particle detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, are still on the calendar for November and December.

Updated: 10/21 9:30 a.m.

Astronauts Christina Koch (on the right in this photograph) and Jessica Meir (left), who completed the first all-woman spacewalk on Friday, Oct. 18, will participate in a press conference from orbit at 11 a.m. CDT on Monday, Oct. 21, which will be streamed on NASA TV. During the seven-hour, 17-minute spacewalk, the pair replaced a failed power controller and completed several other tasks in preparation for future spacewalks. 

Image Credit: NASA

Updated: 10/17 at 11:05 a.m.

Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will venture outside the International Space Station late this week to replace a power controller that failed during the weekend. The approximately five-and-a-half-hour spacewalk, the first ever that will be conducted by two women, is planned for 6:50 a.m. CDT on Friday, with live coverage on NASA TV or NASA Live starting at 5:30 a.m.

How to watch (with popcorn, preferably):

Starting at 5:30 a.m., you can tune in online using NASA TV or NASA Live. Those on-site can also view the spacewalk on JSC Cable TV channel 4-1. JSC team members with wired computer network connections can watch using the JSC EZTV IP Network TV System on channel 4541 (HD). Please note: EZTV currently requires using Internet Explorer on a Windows PC or Safari on a Mac. Mobile devices, Wi-Fi, VPN or connections from other centers are currently not supported by EZTV. Questions? Visit the FAQ site. 

While the women indeed will take center stage for this spacewalk, gender is not a consideration when it comes to planning for these excursions.

One thing that’s important to understand when we plan our spacewalks is that we’re looking to put together a team that makes sense to do those tasks. Gender does not come into play,” said Megan McArthur, deputy chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office, during a media event on Oct. 15. “Meeting the needs of the mission (and) growing our experience set are all at the forefront of our decisions. That’s how we put the teams together then and now. Things can change all the time. As the story unfolds and people understand why that decision was made, people grow more comfortable with the decision.”

When history is made, the spacewalkers and the teams behind them may relish in the moment — but only after.

“It’ll be an exciting event and something we will reflect on after the fact,” McArthur noted. “All of our crew members are completely qualified to do this, and they were the right crew members to do that task.”

Spacewalks, no matter the astronauts involved, are always breathtaking to watch unfold. And even when the astronauts make them appear effortless, they are anything but routine.

“This is the most dangerous thing we do,” said Kenny Todd, manager of International Space Station Operations Integration. “These suits are basically a mini spacecraft. There are people watching those systems in those suits. It’s quite a number … a crosscutting team of disciplines and genders. I’m amazed every time I watch them do these spacewalks.”   

Just the facts:

  • Koch is EV 1 and will wear the spacesuit with red stripes.

  • Meir is EV 2 and will wear the spacesuit with no stripes.

  • This particular spacewalk is the 221st in support of assembly, maintenance and upgrades, and the eighth out of the space station in 2019. With it, Expedition 61 logs a third spacewalk for its mission.

  • While this spacewalk is the fourth for Koch, it will be Meir’s first extravehicular excursion.

Station managers decided to postpone previously planned spacewalks that had been set to install new batteries this week and next in order to replace the faulty power unit, called a Battery Charge/Discharge Unit (BCDU). The station’s overall power supply, which is fed by four sets of batteries and solar arrays, remains sufficient for all operations, and the failed unit has no impact on the crew’s safety or ongoing laboratory experiments. However, the failed power unit does prevent a new lithium-ion battery installed earlier this month from providing additional station power.

The battery charge/discharge units regulate the amount of charge put into the batteries that collect energy from the station’s solar arrays to power station systems during periods when the complex orbits during nighttime passes around the Earth. Two other charge/discharge units on the affected 2B power channel did activate as planned and are providing power to station systems.