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Jessica Meir

Astronauts, Inspirational women, News

NASA Astronauts Complete Historic First All-Woman Spacewalk

21 October, 2019

NASA Astronauts Christina Koch (EV1 - red stripe) and Jessica Meir carrying out the first all-woman spacewalk on Friday 18th October, 2019 and making history [image: NASA TV screenshot]

NASA Astronauts Christina Koch (EV1 – red stripe) and Jessica Meir carrying out the first all-woman spacewalk on Friday 18th October, 2019 and making history [image: NASA TV screenshot]

Soviet Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to carry out a spacewalk on 25th July 1984, almost 35 years ago. Of the more than 500 people who have been to space, around 10% have been female, and until this week spacewalk teams have either been all-male or male-female, with 15 women having ever carried out a spacewalk or EVA (Extravehicular Activity). [For comparison, there have been 213 male spacewalkers)

Rescheduling Spacewalks

However, on Friday 18th October 2019 history was made as NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch ventured outside of the Quest airlock on the International Space Station and carried out the first all-woman spacewalk, a feat long-overdue. The spacewalking Rocket Women were originally scheduled to carry out a spacewalk on 21st October, however due to the failure of a power controller called a battery charge discharge unit (BCDU) after 19 years of operation onboard the station, their spacewalk was rescheduled to an earlier date and replanned. The BCDU ‘regulates the charge to batteries that collect and distribute power to the station’. Originally this spacewalk was planned to have had the crew install new lithium-ion batteries on the space station, to replace the older nickel-hydrogen batteries, however this task was postponed.

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir [L] and Christina Koch [R] on 15th October 2019 preparing for their joint spacewalk,  holding the Pistol Grip Tools that they will use to exchange a

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir [L] and Christina Koch [R] on 15th October 2019 preparing for their joint spacewalk, holding the Pistol Grip Tools that they will use to exchange a failed power controller that collects and regulates power to the International Space Station

During an interview on NASA TV about their upcoming joint spacewalk, NASA Astronaut Christina Koch said, “I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing, and that in the past women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role, and that, in turn, can lead to an increased chance of success. There are [also] a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them, and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell.”

There are [also] a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them, and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell.

Friday’s 7 hour 17 minute spacewalk was deemed a success with the battery charge-discharge unit fully powered up and running well.

NASA Astronaut Selection Progress

Both Christina and Jessica were selected in NASA’s 2013 Astronaut Class (nicknamed Eight Balls), the first class to have a 50% gender split, the highest female ratio selected, bringing the percentage of female NASA astronauts in the NASA Astronaut Corps to around 30%. This thirty years after Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. NASA and the global space industry are really looking forward, which is fantastic. The recent 2017 astronaut class has five girls out of a total of twelve astronauts, with two astronauts selected at twenty-nine years old.

Presidential Call

President Trump called the pair during the momentous spacewalk and initially mischaracterized their accomplishment, through announcing that,”This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station.” The spacewalk was in fact the first to be conducted by two women, with women having taken part in 42 spacewalks previously with all male-female teams.

NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir responded (whilst outside the International Space Station, in orbit around the Earth travelling at 17,500 mph),

“We don’t want to take too much credit, because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time that there have been two women outside at the same time.

And it’s really interesting for us. We’ve talked a lot about it up here. You know, for us, this is really just us doing our job. It’s something we’ve been training for, for six years, and preparing for….And…we were the crew that was tasked with this assignment.

At the same time, we recognize that it is a historic achievement, and we do, of course, want to give credit to all of those that came before us. There has been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers, and astronauts, and we have followed in their footsteps to get us where we are today.

We hope that we can provide an inspiration to everybody….that has a dream and has a big dream and that is willing to work hard to make that dream come true — something that all of us that have made our way up here have done all throughout our lives. And I can tell you, the hard work certainly did pay off.”

Spacesuit Sizing

Friday’s spacewalk was the 221st spacewalk in support of the space station’s assembly and maintenance. The first all-female spacewalk was originally meant to occur in March 2019, however due to the unavailability of a prepared and configured Medium Hard Upper Torso (HUT) size of the spacesuit it was postponed. NASA Astronaut Anne McClain, scheduled to take part in this 29th March 2019 spacewalk, found that a Medium Hard Upper Torso of the spacesuit would fit her better after her initial prior spacewalk in a Large size. Astronauts often train in a multitude of sizes and their sizing and preference may change on-orbit as their bodies adapt to a microgravity environment – including spinal elongation and fluid shifts.

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch (right) prepare to leave the Quest airlock of the International Space Station and begin the historic first-ever all-female spacewalk. [NASA]

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch (right) prepare to leave the Quest airlock of the International Space Station and begin the historic first-ever all-female spacewalk. [NASA]

For the prior 29th March 2019 spacewalk, two spacesuits respectively with a Medium and Large sized Hard Upper Torso were prepared as initially expected. Due to the length of extra time required to prepare and configure an additional spacesuit with a Medium torso for the shortly upcoming spacewalk, an alternative crewmember (Nick Hague) took part in the March spacewalk instead of Anne McClain to protect the safety of the crew and the timing of the mission, a decision recommended by Anne McClain herself.

Artemis – The First Woman On The Moon

History-making NASA Astronaut Christina Koch is set to remain in space for an extended duration mission of 11 months (328 days) to provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman to prepare for human missions to the Moon and Mars. Her mission is set to break the record for the longest single spaceflight for a woman, currently held by NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson who completed a 289 day mission in 2017.

On 8th October, NASA released their new spacesuit designs for future Artemis exploration missions to the Moon, and eventually to Mars, aiming to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. During a press conference prior to the historic all-woman spacewalk, NASA Adminstrator Jim Bridenstine mentioned the Artemis mission and stated, “We want, of course, to have space available to everybody, and we need to continually demonstrate that space is available to everybody…Of course, another reason this is significant is we are preparing right now to send the next man and the first woman to the moon, so this is all emblematic of that,” he said.

Kristine Davis,  Spacesuit Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wears a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). The suit will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Kristine Davis, Spacesuit Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wears a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). The suit will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The new Exploration EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) spacesuits designed for lunar exploration incorporate inclusive sizing with the ability to accommodate anybody from the “first percentile female to the 99th percentile male” according to NASA Spacesuit Designer Amy Ross.

Astronaut Ground Support

The first all-woman spacewalk was also supported by a team of Rocket Women on the ground (around half of the Mission Control Center personnel according to Twitter’s @jennyonconsole)  including Astronaut Stephanie Wilson, who worked as the Capsule Communicator or CAPCOM during the spacewalk and communicated with the crew from NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston. Stephanie was selected as a NASA Astronaut in 1996 and previously flew on three shuttle missions (STS-121 in 2006, STS‑120 in 2007 and STS-131 in 2010). She was the second African American woman to go into space after Mae Jemison.  

At the end of the historic first all-woman spacewalk, NASA Astronaut and International Space University graduate Jessica Meir announced, “Today was especially an honor as we also recognize that this is a milestone. It symbolizes exploration by all that dare to dream and work hard to achieve that dream. Not only that, it’s a tribute to those that paved the way for us to be where we are.” [Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel support a scholarship for women to attend the International Space University!]

This month’s spacewalk provided a vision of a future in which an all-woman spacewalk is no longer remarkable, but hopefully common place as the number of women in the astronaut corps globally increases and humanity ventures onwards to explore the Moon and Mars.

Astronauts, Inspirational women, Media

Rocket Women Featured In BBC’s Women With The Right Stuff

24 February, 2017
“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire - the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.” - Ellen Ochoa, NASA Astronaut & First Hispanic Woman In Space.

“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire – the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.” – Ellen Ochoa, NASA Astronaut & First Hispanic Woman In Space.

In 1961 Wally Funk undertook secret tests to become an astronaut in the USA. A full twenty-two years before Sally Ride became the first American Woman in Space. She, along with 12 other female pilots, passed the tough rigorous physical tests to become an unofficial member of the ‘Mercury 13’ – the US women who could have gone into space over 20 years before the first American woman eventually did and even before Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963.

In the BBC’s Women With The Right Stuff, Wally Funk leads the listener through the story of the Mercury 13, a group of trailblazing and driven female pilots – some with more flying hours than John Glenn, the first American man in space that unfortunately never got the chance to fly to space, to the current NASA class chosen, being 50% female. The piece also features insights from trailblazing female astronauts including NASA’s Jessica Meir and Eileen Collins, the European Space Agency’s Samantha Cristoforetti and the first British astronaut, Helen Sharman. I’m excited to also be featured in the documentary among such fantastic company and represent Rocket Women. (You can find my interview at 9 minutes into the documentary and again at 30 and 40 minutes.)

Listen to the piece here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p041kpmw

Additionally, here’s an insightful article by the documentary’s producer, Sue Nelson, about the documentary and working with Wally Funk: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36824898

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Glamour Magazine Features Fearless NASA Astronauts

7 January, 2016

The latest NASA astronaut class to be chosen had the highest percentage of female astronauts selected at 50%. This taking place in 2013, the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of  the First Woman In Space, Valentina Tereshkova (& the 30th Anniversary of the First American Woman in Space, Sally Ride). Four out of the new eight astronauts are female with a breadth of experience among them, with women now representing 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps. It’s really wonderful to see these women being recently featured in mainstream media, especially Glamour Magazine, a media outlet that’s followed by millions of women around the globe (1.17M followers on Twitter!).

Glamour does a fantastic job of interviewing the most recently selected female NASA Astronauts, experts in a variety of scientific fields. Namely, Christina Hammock Koch, former NOAA station chief in American Samoa,  Nicole Aunapu Mann, US Marine and F18 fighter pilot, Dr.Jessica Meir PhD, former Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Anne C. McClain, US Army and OH-58 Helicopter Pilot.  (Dr.Jessica Meir PhD is also a graduate of my alma mater, International Space University (ISU) (MSS00), making me proud to be an ISU alumna myself!) The article also featured quotes from the inspirational Dr.Dava Newman, Deputy Administrator of NASA.

Fearless Women: NASA Astronauts From The 2013 Class. The Class With The Highest Proportion Of Women At 50% [Photo credit: Glamour magazine/Bjorn Iooss]

Fearless Women: NASA Astronauts From The 2013 Class. The Class With The Highest Proportion Of Women At 50% [Photo credit: Glamour magazine/Bjorn Iooss]

 A highlight from Glamour’s feature includes:

Governments around the world—in China, Europe, and Russia—have plans in the works to at least land robots on Mars, while in the U.S., private companies like SpaceX are partnering with NASA on a human mission and plotting their own commercial trips. And unlike the 1960s race to the moon, this time women are playing pivotal roles—building rockets, designing space suits, and controlling the remote rovers that are already sending momentous insights back from Mars.

This emphasises an important point, women are contributing to missions on an increasing basis, compared to the days of the Apollo programme.  In fact the New Horizons mission team, which last year provided the world with the closest encounter of Pluto and it’s moon Charon, is 25% female, making it the NASA mission with the highest number of female staffers, including engineers and scientists.

The newest four female members of NASA’s astronaut corps also describe how they felt the moment they realised they were chosen in 2013 and how they were inspired to apply.

Anne McClain: There were more than 6,100 other applicants for our class of eight, and I’d made my peace with not getting in. I still remember getting the call that I’d been selected. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk. I started crying. I grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I can’t recall ever not wanting to be an astronaut. I learned a lot [serving 15 months] in Iraq, flying attack helicopters at the front of the front lines. I joined the Army out of a deep sense of duty, but wanting to be an astronaut feels more like my destiny. With so much conflict in the world, space exploration can be a beacon of hope. No one cares about race or religion or nationality in space travel. We’re all just part of Team Human.

Jessica Meir, Ph.D.: I had a fantastic view of the stars from the teeny town in Maine where I grew up. Maybe that’s why I wanted to be an astronaut from such a young age. I’ve always been drawn to remote places—and extreme challenges. While doing research on emperor penguins for my Ph.D. in marine biology, I lived and worked in Antarctica, where I also went scuba diving under several feet of ice.

Christina Hammock Koch: My bedroom wall in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was covered in posters of the space shuttle alongside ones of New Kids on the Block. I had always set my sights on working with NASA, but I didn’t want to get there by checking the usual boxes, like learning to fly and scuba dive. I wanted to get there because I was passionate about science and the next frontier. When the opportunity to spend a year at the South Pole came up, I took it. There I was in charge of more than 10,000 gallons of liquid helium to keep the telescopes supercool. Our motto was “When the South Pole isn’t cold enough, call us.”

Nicole Aunapu Mann: I’m probably one of the few astronauts who didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do as a kid. “Astronaut” seemed like a far-fetched dream. I’m from Penngrove, California, and it wasn’t until my first tour in Iraq flying fighter jets with the Marine Corps that I realized one day I might actually be a good candidate. Going into space will be the absolute coolest thing in the world.

Glamour’s feature also discusses the logistics of relationships in space whilst on a multi-year interplanetary mission and the intricacies of astronaut training. From the feeling of being weightless in a zero-g plane, practicing a spacewalk underwater and even to learning to be a dentist.

NASA recently opened a call for the next generation of NASA astronauts, closing mid-February. If you’re a US citizen and would like your chance to explore the Moon or even Mars, apply now! Women currently represent 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps, let’s work to bring that up to 50%.

Read the full version of Glamour’s feature on female astronauts here