follow us on

The All Female Spacewalk Has Inspired Us To Pursue Our Dreams Despite The Odds

It’s been five days and we’re still not over the all-female spacewalk

There’s something about space that just tugs at the heartstrings. When Opportunity, the rover that roamed Mars from 2004 until 2018 said goodbye early this year people around the world shed a few tears. There’s something about her final message: My battery is low and it’s getting dark. It had so strongly and so capably done its job until a massive dust storm engulfed the entirety of Mars that this goodbye—though sudden and coming from a non-living object—just hit differently. (Sure, that had been a more ‘poetic translation’ of what she’d actually said, which had been in the form of data and not words, but saying goodbye to something that had served so well is still sad.) 

Imagine, then, a crew of all-female astronauts headed to space on their own, without any men, and for the first time since they’d been allowed to join America’s astronaut program in 1978, years after spacewalks had become ubiquitous in… space. Even Hillary Clinton wanted to become an astronaut, but it had been the ’60s, and female astronauts were just not a thing. “I wanted to be an astronaut,” she said in a March 2012 speech commemorating Amelia Earhart. “So when I was about 13, I wrote to NASA and asked what I needed to do to try to be an astronaut. And of course, there weren’t any women astronauts, and NASA wrote me back and said there would not be any women astronauts. And I was just crestfallen.”

These days, young girls no longer have to be crestfallen—the 2017 Astronaut class holds the largest number of females in the batch: 5 out of 12, which isn’t all bad! There’d been 18,000 applicants and this class had been the biggest since 2000. The astronauts, including Kayla Barron, Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Loral O’Hara, and Jessica Watkins, then have to undergo two years of training before they can break the Earth’s atmosphere, so at last week’s spacewalk, it had been Jessica Meir and Christina Koch at the helm. Both were in the same class of astronaut candidates in 2013, which had been 50% women.  

Originally scheduled for March, this all-female spacewalk had been canceled when NASA realized that the spacesuits didn’t properly fit Meir and Koch but after configuring the necessary body measurements (of which there are over eighty), it finally pushed through last Friday, to the awe and wonder of many. Of course, a lot of people have also wondered, in the agency’s 61-year history, how come it took this long?

Historically, it’s because women had been thought to be too hormonal. There had been arguments against the inclusion of women in the program because of menstruation. “Some claimed that menstruation would affect a woman’s ability and blamed several plane crashes on menstruating women,” wrote Adam Cole at NPR. There had been studies in the ’40s debunking this belief, “but the idea wouldn’t die,” he added. Scientists even used hypothetical health risks, such as “microgravity increasing the incidence of ‘retrograde menstruation,’” which is supposedly blood flowing up the fallopian tubes into the abdomen, causing pain and other health problems. 

It would then take until 1983 before the first female astronaut, Sally Ride, would leave for space, and a year later, in 1984, before the first woman would conduct a spacewalk: Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya. But it would take even longer (36 years!) until an all-female spacewalk would occur. It may have taken a while, but the feeling is still glorious all the same just seeing Meir and Koch bob around in their bulky spacesuits, watching them remark how beautiful the Earth is below them. For Opportunity—or Oppy, as she’d been lovingly known—it may have been getting dark, but for Meir, Koch, and all the girls who’ve ever wondered if there’s space in space for them, it’s getting absolutely bright, and wonderfully so. 

What’s next, you might ask? Well, only the moon, of course! 

Photos from NASA