Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch will complete the first all-female spacewalk at the end of March, marking huge leaps in the role of women in the space program and STEM careers.
Coverage of the event published by CNN added that Kristen Facciol, a flight controller with the Canadian Space Agency, will be calling the shots from the ground at NASA’s Johnson Space Center during the spacewalk.
According to NASA, the Lead Flight Director and lead EVA, or extravehicular activity, flight controller are also women—Mary Lawrence and Jackie Kagey.
March is widely celebrated as Women’s History Month, recognizing the achievements of female pioneers in a variety of industries. The two astronauts are scheduled to complete the spacewalk on March 29.
Why is this a big deal?
The all-female spacewalk is a big deal because it isn’t a big deal, at least not from a mission perspective. These astronauts have trained and are ready to do their jobs. They just happen to be women.
But it hasn’t always been this way for women in STEM, which is why this event highlights just how far we’ve come.
Spacewalks happen all the time that don’t get near the level of publicity that this one will. In fact, according to NASA, it is one of three planned spacewalks to occur in close proximity. The spacewalk was originally scheduled to happen in the fall. It’s not a publicity stunt meant to get everyone all excited just because it’s a certain time of year. Rather, it is a real and genuine example of the contributions women have made to the advancement of the human race’s understanding of the universe.
Recognizing the women who paved the way
NASA is committed to recognizing the amazing work that women, who were often uncelebrated at the time, have made. “Women at NASA embody the essence of Women’s History Month,” says the agency’s “NASA Women of STEM” page. “They serve as role models to young women in their pursuit of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
Key figures in NASA’s history were women, without whom monumental breakthroughs like putting a man in orbit or walking on the moon would not have been possible. At the time, these women were seen as background, with credit for their work often going to male supervisors.
But NASA is doing all it can to celebrate these women and inspire the next generation of scientists—both male and female. Even Hollywood is taking notice, with a movie made about women of the color working at NASA who were critical, but Hidden Figures in the success of the American space program.
What I love about the all-female spacewalk is that it is just another day at the office for these women. The fact that the link between Women’s History Month and the serious capability of these astronauts was a happy accident and not a planned publicity event shows just how instrumental women are in today’s space program.