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NASA’s astronauts make “herstory” on first all-female spacewalk

AP, Reuters, October 20, 2019 4:45PM Kids News

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Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir work on the outside of the International Space Station on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. Picture: NASA via AP media_cameraAstronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir work on the outside of the International Space Station on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. Picture: NASA via AP

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Two NASA astronauts have made history, going out on the first all-female spacewalk.

In the entire history of humans in space, this was spacewalk number 421. Men have been on every one of the 420 previous spacewalks.

Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made what NASA called “HERstory,” (instead of history) when they went out the Quest hatch of the International Space Station on Friday night Australian time to fix a broken battery charger. All four men aboard the International Space Station stayed inside for the seven hour mission.

The battery charger failed after Koch and a male crewmate installed new batteries outside the space station last week. NASA put the remaining battery replacements on hold to fix the problem.

media_cameraAstronauts Jessica Meir, left, and Christina Koch pose for a photo in the ISS the day their big day outside replacing a broken battery charger. Picture: NASA via AP

Russia holds claim to the first spacewalk — in 1965 — and also the first spacewalk by a woman — Svetlana Savitskaya — in 1984. The US trailed by a few months in each instance.

Before Koch and Meir’s walk, men dominated* the spacewalking field, 213 to 14.

Meir, a marine biologist* who arrived at the ISS last month, is the 15th female spacewalker. Koch, an electrical engineer*, has already completed three spacewalks and is seven months into an 11-month space mission that will be the longest by a woman.

media_cameraAstronauts Christina Koch (left) and Jessica Meir before they left the surface of the Earth for their mission on the ISS. Picture: AFP/NASA

NASA planned the first all-female space walk in March, but had to call it off because of a shortage of medium-size suits. Koch has since built a second medium-sized suit.

Though it’s called a spacewalk — which makes it sound like a leisurely stroll in a park — it’s really more of a crawl around the outside surface of the space station with a lot of work to do while they’re out there and is widely considered the most dangerous assignment in orbit.

Koch and Meir insisted they were just doing their job after years of training, following in the footsteps of women who paved the way.

U.S. astronauts soar in first all-female space walk

NEW SUITS FOR THE MOON
NASA unveiled two new spacesuits last week, versions of which will be worn by future moonwalking astronauts.

The new suits weren’t ready in time for Meir and Koch’s all-female spacewalk but will be ready for NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to go back to the Moon by 2024 as a stepping stone for a mission to Mars.

Two NASA engineers modelled the suits at NASA’s headquarters in Washington DC in the US, doing squats and sit-ups in front of a crowd of students and reporters.

“This is the first suit we’ve designed in about 40 years,” Chris Hansen, a manager at NASA’s spacesuit design office, said.

“What you saw today was a prototype* of the pressure garment. The life support system is back in a lab in Houston,” he said. “We want systems that allow our astronauts to be scientists on the surface of the Moon.”

One suit of orange fabric will be worn by astronauts when inside the spacecraft. Astronauts will wear a much bigger, mostly white suit on the lunar surface.

media_cameraThe two NASA spacesuit prototypes for lunar exploration, one for launch and re-entry aboard the agency’s Orion spacecraft, known as the Orion Crew Survival Suit, is worn by Dustin Gohmert, right, and one for exploring the surface of the Moon’s South Pole, known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) is worn by Kristine Dans. Picture: AP

The new suits make it much easier to walk, bend and squat when walking on the lunar surface, Amy Ross, NASA’s lead spacesuit engineer, said.

“Basically, my job is to take a basketball, shape it like a human, keep them alive in a harsh environment, and give them the mobility* to do their job,” she said.

GLOSSARY

  • dominated: was better at or more numerous than anyone or anything else
  • marine biologist: science who studies living things in the ocean
  • electrical engineer: designs and builds electrical solutions to problems
  • prototype: model or sample
  • mobility: how well something can move around

EXTRA READING

Astronauts take six-hour spacewalk

Hibernation for astronauts

Weird and wacky training to mimic the lunar conditions

The Eagle has landed … and man walks on the Moon

International Space Station turns 20 this week

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What delayed the previous planned all-female spacewalk?
  2. What year was the first spacewalk? Who was the first woman to walk in space?
  3. What jobs do Koch and Meir do when they’re not on the space station?
  4. What is the name of NASA’s latest moon program?
  5. What are the different coloured new suits for?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. What does it take to be an astronaut?
Think about the personal skills and qualities it would take to be an astronaut on the International Space Station, performing high-pressure tasks like that performed by Koch and Meir. Write down all of the required skills and qualities you can think of. Now join forces with a classmate to look at both of your lists, discussing the skills and qualities you have recorded. Reach agreement on the top 5 skills and qualities needed to be an astronaut.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Critical and Creative Thinking; Personal and Social Capability

2. Extension
Use the list of skills and qualities you agreed upon with your partner to help you write a job advertisement for an astronaut on the International Space Station. But … don’t state where the job is or the job title — keep that a mystery.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
How many astronauts does it take to change a battery?
Seven hours and two people required to change a battery! That seems crazy.

But add in no oxygen, no gravity, restricted view from your giant helmet and giant gloves (but normal-sized tools and battery).

Doesn’t quite sound so easy now does it?!

See if you can get hold of some ski gloves and try and complete a task. Or if you can’t wear gloves, try to not use your thumb.

What can you and your partner challenge yourself to do. Time yourselves and see how long it takes with bare hands, and then with restrictions.

Write down the experience and share it with the class.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you prefer a go on a spacewalk from the ISS, on the Moon or on Mars?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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