News, Science

First All-Female Spacewalk

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Screen capture of NASA’s live-streaming coverage on YouTube of the first all-female spacewalk. Here, the two astronauts have just completed their work and have re-entered the International Space Station.

Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history on Friday when they climbed into spacesuits and left the International Space Station (ISS) to perform a spacewalk. It was the first time a spacewalk has been conducted by two women.

A spacewalk, in this case, is when astronauts go outside the International Space Station (the enormous spacecraft that orbits the Earth). Usually, spacewalks are done to make repairs or do maintenance work.

The two astronauts needed to swap out a large battery or power controller (also known as a battery charge/discharge unit) that had failed. They replaced it with a new one.

Koch and Meir are two of six astronauts who are currently living and working in space on board the International Space Station.

It was Koch’s fourth spacewalk (she has spent a total of 27 hours, 48 minutes on spacewalks). It was Meir’s first spacewalk.

Koch and Meir began their spacewalk at 7:50 a.m. It lasted seven hours and 17 minutes.

Every aspect of the job is done slowly and carefully, with nothing left to chance. NASA’s controllers on Earth even knew how many turns of the screwdriver it would take to undo or replace each screw (to ensure that the screws are at the perfect tightness).

The spacewalk was streamed live on NASA’s YouTube channel, with Brandi Dean, NASA’s public affairs director, explaining what the astronauts were doing and answering questions posted on Twitter under the hashtag #askNASA.

Astronauts train on Earth for spacewalks in a “neutral buoyancy lab,” which is an enormous swimming pool with a mock-up of the space station in it. Astronauts also train using virtual reality and use a system with pulleys that makes it feel like they’re in micro-gravity, Dean said.

The astronauts wore space suits that are bulky; they would weigh about 300 lbs on Earth. The suits act as a type of “personal space station,” a NASA representative said on the live stream.

It took the pair three and a half hours to swap out the battery unit. The astronauts then performed other maintenance tasks as well.

THINKING AND DISCUSSION PROMPTS

  1. NASA knows everything about every aspect of the tasks astronauts perform during a spacewalk–even down to the number of turns needed to undo a screw. What kinds of things would NASA’s staff on Earth would have to do, in order to have that level of detailed knowledge? What are some reasons why NASA controls spacewalks so carefully?
  2. Do you think it was significant that this was the first spacewalk performed by two women? Why or why not?
  3. The spacesuit is described as a “personal space station.” What kinds of features would this kind of suit need to have? Why? Read more about spacesuits on NASA’s website at https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/what-is-a-spacesuit-k4.html

SPACEWALK STATS FROM NASA:

  • The longest spacewalk, in 2001, lasted 8 hours and 56 minutes.
  • This was the 221st spacewalk to do maintenance or assembly on the ISS.
  • This was the eighth spacewalk conducted at the ISS this year.
  • Total spacewalking time from any spacecraft: 57 days, 20 hours and 29 minutes.

LINKS

Watch (or fast-forward through) the entire seven-hour spacewalk on NASA’s YouTube channel:

Read more information about this spacewalk on NASA’s blog:

https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/tag/spacewalk/

This NASA video of the neutral buoyancy lab is designed to show companies the features of the underwater lab so it can be rented by them; however, it gives an excellent overview of what the lab looks like and does.