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First All-Woman Spacewalk

On October 18,  a new milestone was achieved in the space program: the first all-female spacewalk. United States astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir went into space for more than seven hours, starting at 7:38 AM EDT. The two were repairing a faulty battery discharge unit on the International Space Station. The unit was part of a new lithium-ion battery system, but had not begun functioning like the other units. While the failure did not present a danger to the space station, it was having an impact on the efficiency of the station’s solar cells. Throughout the course of the spacewalk, a couple of other small adjustments were made to the station.

This spacewalk marks only the 43rd time women have participated in a spacewalk, with the first woman to spacewalk being Svetlana Savitskaya, a Russian cosmonaut who went out in July of 1984. As this was Meir’s first spacewalk, she became the 15th woman to participate in a spacewalk, the 14th from the US. Taken in context with the total number of men who have spacewalked, 213, a large imbalance is clear.

Spacewalks contain many risks for astronauts, so this was only the 8th spacewalk of the year, and the 212th in the ISS’s 21 years of existence. Spacewalkers need to exercise extreme caution to avoid drifting away from their tasks and into space. With the vast majority of astronauts being men, there is a certain amount of sense in the spacewalk figures as they stand. However, NASA is still pushing towards equality, with the 2013 first class of astronaut selections (of which both Koch and Meir were a part) being 50% men and 50% women. With plans to put women on the moon and humans on mars, the future of equality in the space program is looking bright.