October 16, 2019

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are scheduled to conduct the first-ever all-female spacewalk this week to make an important and urgent repair to replace one of the International Space Station’s power controllers that failed over the past weekend. This spacewalk was originally scheduled in March, but was aborted when astronaut Anne McClain needed a different spacesuit.

“Station managers decided to postpone previously planned spacewalks that had been set to install new batteries this week and next in order to replace the faulty power unit, called a Battery Charge/Discharge Unit (BCDU),” says a report from NASA’s blog. “The station’s overall power supply, which is fed by four sets of batteries and solar arrays, remains sufficient for all operations, and the failed unit has no impact on the crew’s safety or ongoing laboratory experiments. However, the failed power unit does prevent a new lithium-ion battery installed earlier this month from providing additional station power.”

Why This Spacewalk is Important for Women in STEM

“Women are approximately half the population, but have not historically represented half of the astronaut corps,” says IEEE Senior Member Ella Atkins. “Events like the all-female spacewalk help us, as a society, actively move toward a future with equal representation and opportunities.”

While NASA is making hiring an equal distribution of female to male astronauts a priority, only 12 of the 38 active astronauts are women, according to the New York Times. Showing that women can do the same job of a male astronaut is an important step in establishing trust and ultimately helping to move the needle toward equality in space.

The first-ever all-female spacewalk is also an important historical event because it will encourage younger women to find a similar passion and follow in Koch and Meir’s footsteps.

“Kids of all ages look up to astronauts, so this event can help encourage girls to reach for goals they might have been told were beyond their reach,” says Atkins. “An all-female spacewalk provides a clear statement that NASA, perhaps the coolest branch of government, offers young women opportunities to explore and discover – to lead rather than follow others.”

“I think it’s just another boundary shattered,” adds IEEE Graduate Student Member Paige Kassalen.”A lot of people, including myself when I was a young girl, think they have limits in terms of what they can accomplish.”

An all-female spacewalk is a great first step to encouraging and inspiring women in engineering to keep breaking records, shattering the glass ceiling and to continue making ground-breaking research in their chosen fields.

“These two women are showing that women can do things, but also that teams of women are strong and can get the job done,” says Kassalen.

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