On October 18, 2019, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, made history when it launched its 221st spacewalk. Carried out by Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, this stint in space marked a major milestone, as it is the first time that a spacewalk has featured only female astronauts.
Koch and Meir embarked on this historic spacewalk early Friday morning. Tasked with the responsibility of replacing a failed battery component, the pair floated outside of the International Space Station and got straight to work—which, after five-and-a-half hours, culminated in both a mended power control unit and a monumental milestone.
“I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing,” Koch said. “In the past, women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the space program at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role. That can lead in turn to increased chance for success.”
On Friday, people across the planet tuned in to NASA’s website and Facebook page for a live look at the astronauts in action. In order to make it possible for viewers to easily distinguish them from one another, Koch wore a suit adorned with strategic red stripes, while Meir was clad in plain gear.
Though their spacesuits may not seem particularly important, they’ve played a major role in making this endeavor possible. Back in March, NASA had to scrap plans for an earlier all-female spacewalk when the International Space Station did not carry enough suits in the correct sizes—a problem that many misconstrued to mean that women were simply too small in stature for such a task.
However, Ellen Stofan, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, was quick to clear the air. “No physical reasons—not small enough spacesuits,” she tweeted. “Equipment problems held women back—and the men who made decisions about that equipment.”
Fortunately, these “equipment problems” were solved ahead of Friday’s event, allowing the long-overdue mission to finally take off—and enabling Koch and Meir to inspire a new generation of go-getters. “To all those reaching to new heights,” Koch said, “yes you can.”