The story of the conquest of space had another remarkable episode this Friday (18), with the first 100% female spacewalk. Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch worked together outside the International Space Station (ISS) for a total of 7 hours and 17 minutes for various complex maintenance activities.
Despite the weightless environment, operating in pressurized suits all this time causes physical wear comparable to completing a marathon.
After spending several hours preparing in a floodgate, which involves adapting to the lower pressure and pure oxygen atmosphere of the space suits, the pair was ready to leave at 8:38 this Friday (Brasilia time) and began returning to air gate around 3:10 pm, enough time for the station to take more than four and a half turns around the Earth (alternating between about 45 minutes of darkness and 45 minutes with sunlight). The walk was officially closed at 3:55 pm, with the closing of the external hatch of the air gate and the beginning of repressurization.
Outside, the work involved replacing a broken electricity control device called the BCDU (battery charge / discharge unit), and various inspections of the station's external structure, as well as other maintenance activities.
These periodic build, maintenance, and upgrade outputs of the ISS are quite common and not usually in the news. To give you an idea, the extraveicular activity (technical name of spacewalks) this Friday was the 221st already performed in the orbital complex since 1998. That is, on average, 10 of these per year.
Nor is it news that spacewalks involve women. This is the 43rd to have an astronaut involved. The unprecedented aspect is that for the first time all space walkers (usually two) are women.
There was no intentional planning for this to happen. It was something that sooner or later would naturally occur, with the gradual rise of female astronauts. In fact, the 2013 NASA class, of which Koch and Meir are part, was 50% female.
Incidentally, the first 100% female walk almost took place in March, with Koch and Anne McClain (then aboard the station, now solo), but because of the size of the costumes then available, McClain switched places with Nick Hague.
Now that everything has lined up, NASA has capitalized on how historic the event could be. In addition to broadcasting the spacewalk live (as usual), a White House team recorded a call from President Donald Trump to the astronauts.
Jessica Meir, on her first walk, responded to Trump modestly: “We don't want to take too much credit, because there have been too many women space walkers before. This is just the first time we have had a women's walk only. We're just doing our job. ”
Nevertheless, she celebrated the historical occasion and expressed the importance of being able to inspire women in the world with her work.
Meir became the 14th American (and 15th woman) to perform a spacewalk. His colleague Koch appears in these two lists in the immediately preceding position.
A symptom of this list is the low incidence of female space walkers outside the US. In addition to the 14 Americans, only one Russian woman performed a similar task (by the way the first in history), Svetlana Savitskaya, in 1984.
With today's extravehicular activity, Meir brings international color to the list, as she has dual citizenship. In addition to being American, she is the first Swede to take a spacewalk.