Ms. Christina Koch and Dr. Jessica Meir made history on October 18th when they successfully completed the first all-female spacewalk. The two astronauts were on a mission to the International Space Station to replace a power controller and conduct maintenance. The spacewalk included a live stream coverage and a new conference the two astronauts participated in a few days later.
In 1984 Russia sent the first woman, Svetlana Savitskaya, on a spacewalk. The first American woman to hold that accomplishment was Kathryn Sullivan the same year (Sally Ride was the first American woman to travel to space). Since 1984 twelve U.S. women have completed 43 spacewalks.
This was Dr. Meir’s first space walk and Ms. Koch’s fourth since they both became astronauts in 2013. Dr. Meir said of her first journey, “It really was an incredible experience and a mixture of emotions going out the door the first time. I’ll never forget looking down and seeing my boots and the Earth below.” 2013 was the first year that NASA’s class of astronauts was made up equally of men and women. Dr. Meir reported to CNN that she had written “go for a spacewalk” on her list of dreams in her high school yearbook.
On the shifting makeup of astronaut teams Popular Science reports, “Internally, NASA is also interested in benefiting from the stronger group dynamics that diverse teams enjoy. A flood of social science backs up the intuition that groups of people from different backgrounds create a more efficient marketplace for ideas, from ethnically diverse teams being better able to spot stock market bubbles, to gender diverse teams creating more new products.”
Both astronauts highlight the importance of the women trailblazers that had come before them and their optimism that such “firsts” will someday seem commonplace. Ms. Koch is slated to break the record for longest single space flight completed by a woman if she returns to earth in February as expected. When completed, she will have spent 328 days in space.
What impact do these kinds of accomplishments have on broader cultural norms? What other industries have had women achieve historic firsts recently?