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Astronauts make history as first all-female spacewalk team

By The San Diego Union-Tribune (TNS) - Oct 19,2019 - Last updated at Oct 19,2019

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch go inside the Quest airlock on Friday to prepare the spacesuits and tools they will use on their first spacewalk together (Photo courtesy of NASA)

By Gary Robbins 

SAN DIEGO — UC San Diego graduate Jessica Meir and fellow astronaut Christina Koch made history before most of California woke up on Friday, becoming the first all-female team of astronauts to perform a spacewalk.

Meir and Koch floated out of the International Space Station shortly before 5am Pacific Daylight Time for a roughly 5.5 hour mission to repair a power unit that recently broke.

Within minutes, they set to work, attached to the exterior of space station, which is streaking around earth at a speed of about eight kilometres per second.

The spacewalk was being broadcast live at NASA.gov.

Koch left the station first and was quickly followed by the 42 year-old Meir, who was carrying a tool bag. She was soon working from P6, a large part of the super structure that was built by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) in Huntington Beach. A ground controller warned her to be careful of “sharp edges”.

She is wearing an all white spacesuit. Koch is wearing a white spacesuit with a red stripe. She was working from a robotic arm controlled from inside space station.

Meir, who earned her doctorate at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is making her first spacewalk. Koch is making her fourth.

Meir flew to space station in late September to carry out a six month mission, most of which will be spent on scientific research. When asked by the Union-Tribune how she thought the mission would change her, the Maine native said, “I have given that a lot of thought. I think that [author] Frank White described it best as the ‘overview effect.’

“It affects you in two main ways. First of all, in appreciating how fragile and how special our home planet earth is. Seeing that very thin layer of the atmosphere, seeing the oceans, seeing all the land forms.

I’m quite an avid environmentalist. Of course, a lot of that goes back to my time at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and understanding the remarkable biodiversity we have here on our home planet.”

Friday’s mission represented a moment of good fortune for UCSD, which is celebrating homecoming this weekend. Meir was equipped with a GoPro camera developed by fellow UCSD alum Nick Woodman.

During today’s flight, NASA allowed the public to post questions about the mission on Twitter. The questions have ranged from “Does the @Astro—Jessica and @Astro—Christina believe in God? Does this help them in space mission?” to “Mrs McKnight’s 6th graders want to know how you protect your eyes from the sun? And what do sunrises look like in space?”.

NASA says that “Koch will be wearing the spacesuit with the red stripes, and views from her helmet camera will have the number 18, while Meir’s spacesuit does not have stripes, and her helmet camera view will be number 11”.

“The spacewalk will be the 221st in support of station assembly, maintenance and upgrades and the eighth outside the station this year. Meir will be the 15th woman to spacewalk, and the 14th US woman. NASA astronaut Kathryn Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space in October 1984.

“Both Koch and Meir, selected as astronaut candidates in 2013, are on their first spaceflight. Koch will remain in space for an extended duration mission of 11 months to provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman to prepare for human missions to the Moon and Mars.”

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