This morning, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch are recreating their history-making all-female spacewalk. The pair will head outside the International Space Station today to do some more upgrades. It’ll be just the second time in history that two women have suited up — without any men — and performed a spacewalk together. And if all goes to plan, the pair could do it all again next week.
The purpose of today’s spacewalk isn’t all that remarkable, otherwise. Koch and Meir are tasked with continuing the multiyear process of swapping out batteries on the outside of the ISS. For decades, the space station relied on nickel-hydrogen batteries to store energy generated by the vehicle’s solar panels. But since 2017, NASA has been periodically replacing these old batteries with newer lithium-ion batteries. The new batteries are lighter, hold more of a charge, and are supposed to last much longer than the originals.
With today’s spacewalk and another scheduled for Monday, January 20th, Koch and Meir are set to finish up this battery upgrade by replacing the last few nickel-hydrogen batteries still in use on the outside of the station. When complete, all eight power channels on the ISS will be fully upgraded, with three lithium-ion batteries connected to each channel.
This will be the second spacewalk for Meir and the fifth for Koch, who just broke the record for the longest continuous stay in space by a woman. Back in March 2019, Koch was originally slated to perform the first all-female spacewalk with another woman — Anne McClain, who was her crewmate at the time. Ultimately, McClain decided to swap out of the spacewalk, since there wasn’t an available spacesuit in her size. A male colleague, NASA astronaut Nick Hague, wound up taking her place, which led to uproar from those who were looking forward to the history-making endeavor.
Then in October, NASA finally got its chance at a do-over. After launching a new crew — and a new spacesuit — to the ISS, everything lined up perfectly for Koch and Meir to perform a spacewalk together. Up until that moment, every spacewalk in history had included at least one man in a spacesuit. But in October, all of the men on board the ISS stayed inside.
After next week, NASA will be able to boast that it has facilitated three all-female spacewalks, soon making the feat not so newsworthy. Once Meir and Koch are through, the next spacewalk will involve NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency, who will update a scientific instrument on the outside of the ISS that detects cosmic rays. But it’s still possible that Koch and Meir could venture out into space together after that — and with multiple smaller-sized spacesuits on the station right now, we could see even more all-female spacewalks in the months and years ahead.