NASA’s first all-female spacewalk is finally here – astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will venture out of the International Space Station on Friday morning.
The mission, which was originally scheduled for October 21 but has been moved up, aims to replace a faulty battery part. It will be Meir’s first spacewalk and Koch’s fourth.
The historic spacewalk will begin at 7:50 a.m. ET on Friday, October 18. NASA will air live coverage on its website and on NASA television starting at 6:30 a.m. ET.
Koch was previously scheduled to do a spacewalk with another female astronaut, Anne McClain, in March. That would have been the first all-female crew in 18 years of spacewalking, but NASA cancelled the event because it did not have the right size spacesuits.
10 spacewalks in 3 months
Spacewalks, formally called extravehicular activities or EVAs, are routine yet risky operations. During an EVA, two astronauts put on bulky spacesuits, step outside the ISS, and work together in the unforgiving vacuum of space.
The ISS has conducted 220 EVAs since its construction in December 1998.
“Looking at the workload that we have going forward, this was the right crew to send out to do this set of tasks,” Megan McArthur, deputy chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office, said in a press call about the upcoming spacewalk. “All of our crew members are completely qualified to do this, and I think the fact that it will be two women just is a reflection of the fact that we have so many capable, qualified women in the office.”
The milestone comes in the midst of an “EVA blitz,” with a record 10 spacewalks scheduled in just three months.
On October 11, astronauts Andrew Morgan and Christina Koch conducted a spacewalk to install new lithium-ion batteries along one of the space station’s four sets, or “channels,” of batteries. But after that, one of the channel’s three power boxes failed to integrate its new batteries into the space station’s system. As a result, that channel is operating at only two-thirds of its normal power capacity.
The failure doesn’t impact the crew’s safety, ISS operations, or any space experiments happening at the station.
Troubleshooting battery failures
The faulty power unit is about 19 years old, Kenny Todd, who oversees ISS operations, said in the call.
The ISS suffered a similar failure in the spring after astronauts completed the same routine battery installations on another channel. Todd hopes to identify anything the failures might have in common.
“There is a fair level of concern,” he said. “We’re still scratching our heads and looking at the data.”
In the meantime, administrators have pushed back three other spacewalks meant to complete the process of installing new batteries.
When Koch and Meir exit the space station, its robot arm will carry them close to the repair site, where the two astronauts will spend about three hours replacing the 230-pound defunct unit, and about another hour doing other routine maintenance. Todd is confident that the battery channel will be in full operation by the end of the week.
McArthur said that as more women continue to pursue careers in science and technology, all-female spacewalks will likely become commonplace.
“What we see is more and more women with the education and background and skillset that qualify them to apply to the astronaut office,” McArthur said. “That broadens our field of folks to hire from, so that means we’re seeing higher percentages of women in the incoming astronaut classes, so that means we’re seeing higher percentages of women onboard the International Space Station. I would expect that to continue.”