Up until last Friday, there had been 420 spacewalks and men were there for every one. On Friday, NASA reached a milestone when American astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir donned space suits, stepped outside the International Space Station, and took part in the first all-female spacewalk.
This was old hat for Koch, who had made three spacewalks before Friday. She’s seven months into an 11-month spaceflight that will be the longest by a woman when it's over.
NASA said Friday's all-female walk wasn't planned by the agency to set a milestone, since it was bound to happen eventually with more women in the astronaut corps.
But it was not always so, of course. The space program — and much of science in general — has long been dominated by men. Women weren't admitted to the U.S. astronaut program until 1978 and it wasn't until Sally Ride rode into space in 1983 that an American woman flew beyond the stratosphere. The Russians launched cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova into space in 1963, far ahead of NASA. And the first woman to "walk" in space was cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya in 1984.
At a time when we're trying to draw more young people into STEM — especially more girls and young women, who are underrepresented in engineering and technology —the first all-female spacewalk was a breakthrough and inspiration.
It's hard to believe it took so long, and hundreds of spacewalks, before everyone involved in the operation was female. Even now, it turns out, NASA didn't have two appropriately sized space suits until Koch and another woman were scheduled to work outside the International Space Station back in March and realized the problem. That problem was fixed in time for Friday's spacewalk.
When Koch and Meir did step outside to work, their spacewalk lasted seven hours and 17 minutes, and included a call from President Trump, who acknowledged the historic nature of this all-female spacewalk.
NASA officials noted the historic achievement and pointed to the agency’s goals to put the first woman and the next man on the moon, and then to forge a path to Mars.
We tip our hats to Christina Koch and Jessica Meir for their dedication and bravery in doing their jobs in space. And we're glad another milestone for women, and NASA, is behind us all.