Suiting Up: NASA's All-Female Spacewalk Gets New Launch Date

On October 21 NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will make history as the first women to complete an all-female spacewalk.

Koch, who has been aboard the space station for 205 days as of Saturday, was originally scheduled to participate in the first event of this kind back in March with fellow astronaut Anne C. McClain. The mission was modified, however, after the team learned that there were not enough medium-sized spacesuit components to go around.

The troublesome spacesuit part was a piece called the "hard upper torso," which NASA describes as a "vest made out of fiberglass like some cars and swimming pools." The rigid garment is designed for strength, as the astronaut's Primary Life Support Subsystem—the backpack containing their air supply, water for the suit's temperature control system and a "thruster," or jetpack, for use in case they detach from the station—attaches to it.

McClain initially volunteered to wear a larger spacesuit, but demurred after completing a spacewalk in a better-fitting suit. Instead, Koch completed the March spacewalk with fellow NASA astronaut Nick Hague, who ostensibly wore a size large.

Christina Koch
NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch, a member of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 59/60, reacts as her spacesuit is tested prior to the launch onboard the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 14, 2019. On October 21 Koch will participate in the first all-female spacewalk. SERGEI ILNITSKY/Getty

The missions of the March spacewalk and the one scheduled for later this month are the same: astronauts will replace lithium-ion batteries on the exterior of the space station.

Koch is once again scheduled to participate, this time accompanied by Jessica Meir as McClain returned to Earth on June 24. In August, McClain became recognized as the first openly LGBTQ astronaut after her marital troubles became public when her estranged wife accused McClain of hacking her bank account from space.

While Koch, who holds a master's degree in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University, is a natural choice for the battery replacement mission, the operation will be the first spacewalk for Meir, a marine biologist.

On September 30, Meir and Koch appeared together in a livestreamed interview from the space station. With their feet tethered to the spacecraft's floor and ponytails floating behind them, the pair answered questions from fans on Twitter about their research and life in space.

Asked about her advice for young girls interested in space, Meir responded:

"Well, I think the advice that I give most young people is really to identify what it is you're passionate about. You know, that sounds kind of trite—we say it all the time—but it really is true. I really don't think you can really excel at something, and more importantly, be happy doing it if it's not something that you're really passionate about. ... I know for both Christina and I, we could never have imagined for both of us that our childhood dream would come true and that both of us would be here ... I think it is proof dreams really can come true."

On Sunday, ahead of their historic joint spacewalk, Koch will complete another battery replacement spacewalk. NASA will livestream the event, beginning at 7:50 a.m. ET. The operation is expected to take six and a half hours.

According to her NASA biography, Koch is on track to claim the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman. She is expected to remain aboard the space station for 328 days in total.