NASA astronaut Christina Koch reflected on her participation in the first all-woman spacewalk ahead of its one-year anniversary on Sunday (Oct. 18).
A year ago, Koch and her colleague Jessica Meir, who were both part of the 2013 astronaut class — the first and only astronaut class to be 50% women — took part in the first-ever spacewalk conducted entirely by women. NASA hadn’t orchestrated the event, rather, it was a chance pairing, the result of an increasing number of women in the astronaut corps.
“It was such a momentous moment … and I think the year has really made me realize that,” Koch told Space.com. “It’s really been interesting how 2020 has become this year that has symbolized inclusion in so many ways.”
“We kind of almost were kicking it off in some ways, unknowingly,” with the spacewalk, she said, referring to spacewalking as historically male-dominated.
On Monday (Oct. 19), the Guinness Book of World Records officially recognized Koch and Meir for their historic spacewalk, and Koch specifically for her mission, the longest single spaceflight by a woman to date.
“Not only is aerospace and technical industry [an area] that has often had under-representation by women, but spacewalking, in particular, is a really stark example of that,” Koch said. “I think there have been about 15 women that have ever done a spacewalk, and there are over 200 men that have done a spacewalk.”
This event made “sure that NASA was really committed to, like I like to say, answering humanity’s call to explore by everyone. And so it was just a wonderful thing to have the honor to participate in. And I think that we’re just so appreciative still to receive the support that we still receive every day about it,” she said.
In looking to the future, Koch remarked on what she hopes the next generation of astronauts and spacewalkers like herself will face and how things will be different. She noted that, with this spacewalk, things seem to be starting to turn a corner and a new era is approaching “where no matter who comes on as an astronaut candidate, the expectation that’s placed on them that they’re going to be a great spacewalker is the same,” she said. “There’s no excuses, there’s no lower bar of expectations.”
Koch also noted that she hopes to one day “see a world where we focus on mentorship, where we’re paying forward to the future explorers — I see a world where women are selected into the astronaut corps and it’s not even a surprise.”
Memorable spacewalk moments
Besides this being a historic spacewalk, there were a few other elements of the event that stood out to Koch. “It was my only spacewalk being on the robotic arm. It was one of the few spacewalks that I was the lead spacewalker. And it was the first time that I was going out on a spacewalk with someone whose first spacewalk it was,” she said.
It was “the first time my spacewalk buddy was seeing it through their eyes for the first time,” she said. She also shared that, unsurprisingly, “the moment of being on the robotic arm was great.”
Additionally, as the excursion was an unexpected spacewalk planned on short notice to replace a faulty power regulator that failed after the installation of new batteries, Koch appreciated “the fact that we had to just come together, it was such teamwork. We worked back and forth with the ground for the week prior to the spacewalk honing in on what procedures we would use. It was a great interactive thing, because we really were able to give a lot of input.”
But out of all of these moments and triumphs, Koch noted her favorite.
“The best moment was when Jessica and I both came out of the airlock. And before we left … our eyes kind of caught each other and we knew what an amazing moment it really was, and I smiled,” she said. “We were talking to the ground like normal and no one knew that we had that moment, but that was a really special thing I’ll never forget.”
Space station records
In February, Christina Koch completed a record-breaking 328-day stint in space aboard the International Space Station. So, in reflecting on her historic spacewalk she also shared her feelings about the fact that the orbiting lab she called home for so many days is celebrating its 20th anniversary of a continued human presence.
“I love thinking about how there wasn’t a single day in the last 20 years, when every human was on the planet,” she said. “We made sure that we were utilizing this amazing resource of our microgravity laboratory every single day.”
“I see it as a science amplifier, because the space station allows us to achieve scientific discoveries that really are not possible on Earth,” Koch said. In particular, she pointed to the fact that technology and science done on the space station is directly informing and supporting future missions back to the moon, to Mars and more.
“The fact that we prioritize that, as a world, is really exciting,” she said.