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NASA Holds First All-Female Spacewalk in 54 Years of Spacewalking

During their historic spacewalk, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir replaced a power controller on the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history today when they conducted the first all-female spacewalk in more than five decades of spacewalking! The two ventured outside of the International Space Station at 7:50 this morning for a 7-hour mission to replace a failed power controller. Of the 227 people who have participated in spacewalks since the first one took place in 1965, only 14 have been women. Prior to their spacewalk, Meir spoke of its historic significance and the long fight for women to have equal access and opportunity to participate in the space program: "What we’re doing now shows all of the work that went in for the decades prior, all of the women that worked to get us where we are today."

NASA had previously planned an all-female spacewalk in March with Koch and American astronaut Anne McClain, but it was cancelled after only one medium-sized spacesuit was available. Seven months later, the time has finally come! As Koch said on NASA TV last week, “I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing and in the past, women haven’t always been at the table. And it’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted.”

In celebration of this groundbreaking moment, we're sharing the stories of these two inspiring astronauts, whose careers in space are just beginning. Meir and Koch have many years of exciting space firsts ahead, including possible involvement in the planned Mars missions. Koch, who arrived on the space station last March, will also set a new record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman if she remains on ISS until her scheduled return in February.

Equally importantly, these trailblazers provide two more inspiring role models for girls and women who dream of careers in science and space. "I can be an example to people that might not have someone to look at as a mentor," says Koch, an electrical engineer. "It doesn’t matter where you come from or what examples there might be around you, you can actually achieve whatever you’re passionate about."

Christina Koch: The Outdoor Adventurer In A New Frontier

Christina Koch is no stranger to adventure: from rock climbing to camping to ice climbing, she's up for just about anything! So it should come as no surprise that space travel has long been on her wish list of adventures. "I don't even remember a time when I didn't want to be an astronaut," she said in a recent interview. "I had pictures of space up in my room way back in middle school, right next to the boy band posters!" After earning bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering and physics, and a a masters degree in electrical engineering, the native of Jacksonville, North Carolina combined her scientific skill and her yen for exploration to her work, spending two winters in Greenland and one in Antarctica as part of field expeditions. In her spare time, she continued her adventurous hobbies, including a solo motorcycle ride across the country: "The trip was from North Carolina to Montana, and I camped along the way by myself," says Koch. "And it was a phenomenal trip, and I learned a lot about self-reliance and planning."

While her outdoor experience helped her be physically ready for astronaut training, Koch says there were plenty of challenges to keep her busy. "All astronauts, even civilians like me without pilot experience, have to learn how to co-pilot a jet called a T-38," she explains. "I [also] got to train to be an aircraft commander of another military high-performance plane called a T-6. It took every bit of grit and dedication to get through that course."

Koch, who launched to the ISS on March 14, 2019 for Expedition 59, 60, and 61, said that she planned on using her free time to pursue some of her other passions: "I enjoy... artsy things like photography, videography, and sewing," she says. "So, I’m looking forward to spending time in space on the more artsy stuff... I can’t wait to take photos of astronaut life, as well as of the Earth from space." For girls interested in following in her footsteps, she advises that "it's all about heading down the road of finding and engaging in unique experiences that you're passionate about. This will broaden your perspectives and start your learning about leadership, communication, challenges, and being successful pursuing your dreams."

Jessica Meir: The Biologist Preparing For A Mars Mission

Jessica Meir has been dreaming of being an astronaut ever since she was five years old growing up in Caribou, Maine. "My first real distinct memory of it was in first grade we were asked to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up," she says. "I remember drawing an astronaut standing on the moon with a flag in the background. Ever since then that's the only thing that I said that I wanted to be." But unlike colleagues who studied physics or engineering, Meir studied biology, seeking to understand how animals, including humans, performed in extreme environments. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Brown University — during which she performed a student experiment in NASA's reduced gravity "vomit comet" aircraft — a Master of Science in Space Studies from the International Space University, and a Doctorate in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Before being selected for the 2015 astronaut class, Meir went scuba diving alongside emperor penguins in Antarctica to understand how they swam with low oxygen input; raised bar-headed geese so their ability to fly at high altitude could be studied in a controlled environment; and spent three years studying human physiology at Lockheed Martin’s Human Research Facility. But all of the studies in the world didn't stop her from being excited the first time she put on a spacesuit in NASA's neutral buoyancy lab. "You're trying to get your job done and do a good job," she says, "[and then you] look over at  your buddy and say, 'Oh, wow, he's in a spacesuit; I'm in a spacesuit too!'"

On September 25, 2019, Meir launched to the ISS to serve as a flight engineer during Expedition 61 and 62. Now that she's achieved her astronaut dreams, she's ready to look even further — like the planned Mars mission. "Mars has always captured the human imagination for decades and decades, it’s always been the planet that everyone’s looking toward," she says. "Knowing it’s out there, it’s what drives everything that we do."

Children's Books And Toys Celebrating Women In Space

Baby Astronaut

Baby Astronaut

Written by: Dr. Laura Gehl
Illustrated by: Daniel Wiseman
Recommended Age: 1 to 4

This pigtailed Baby Astronaut is ready for liftoff! She and her crew put on space suits and helmets before they blast off. Once she's in orbit, she'll explain why astronauts float (and even how they sleep.) Then, she'll conduct experiments: Can ants live in space? Yes! Can plants grow in space/ Yes! This adorable board book from the Baby Scientist series, which also includes the book Baby Botanist, is perfect for curious babies and toddlers.

To The Stars!

The First American Woman to Walk In Space

To The Stars!

The First American Woman to Walk In Space

Recommended Age: 5 - 9

When Kathy Sullivan was growing up, she hated the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" — because whenever she named an exciting job, people told her it wasn't for girls. But she was determined to change that, so when she was a teenager, she learned to fly a plane, and in 1978 she became one of the first women to be selected by NASA. And when she finally got to space in 1984, she made her mark as the first American woman to perform a spacewalk. This inspiring story ends with a note from Sullivan and capsule biographies of other American women space pioneers. It's perfect for budding astronauts, or for anyone who refuses to believe something "isn't for girls."

The Astronaut With A Song For The Stars: The Story of Dr. Ellen Ochoa
New!

The Astronaut With A Song For The Stars: The Story of Dr. Ellen Ochoa
New!

Written by: Julia Finley Mosca
Illustrated by: Daniel Rieley
Recommended Age: 5 - 9

Ellen Ochoa dreamed of playing her flute professionally — until she discovered engineering in college and was immediately hooked. People doubted whether she could succeed: a girl from an immigrant family wasn't the right sort of person to become a scientist, they thought. She refused to believe them, and not only did she achieve her career in science, but she even became a NASA astronaut. And when she flew into outer space, her flute came with her, so she could play a song for the stars! This appealing biography from the Amazing Scientists series is a colorful tribute to this daring scientist and musician.

You Should Meet: Mae Jemison

You Should Meet: Mae Jemison

Written by: Laurie Calkhoven
Illustrated by: Monique Dong
Recommended Age: 6 - 8

Mae Jemison dreamed of becoming an astronaut from childhood. She went to medical school and joined the Peace Corps, but she never forgot that dream — so in 1985, she applied to NASA, and in 1992, Jemison became the first African-American woman to go into space! In this Level 3 Ready-To-Read book, newly independent readers can learn all about Jemison's fascinating life and career. For an inspiring picture book about Jemison, check out Mae Among The Stars.

Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space

Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space

Written by: Libby Jackson
Recommended Age: 7 - 12

This gorgeously illustrated collected biography honors inspirational women who helped fuel some of the greatest achievements in space exploration from the nineteenth century to today! Galaxy Girls pays tribute to fifty pioneering women past and present, from mathematicians to engineers to test pilots to astronauts. Each capsule biography is paired with striking full-page original artwork from the students of the London College of Communication. Perfect for inspiring the space leaders of tomorrow, this stunning book gives this band of heroic sisters and their remarkable and often little known scientific achievements long overdue recognition.

Gutsy Girls Go For Science: Astronauts
New!

Gutsy Girls Go For Science: Astronauts
New!

Written by: Alicia Klepeis
Illustrated by: Hui Li
Recommended Age: 8 - 11

Imagine blasting off into outer space with this book that profiles famous female astronauts — and encourages you to try hands-on STEM activities related to space exploration! The stories of Bonnie Dunbar, Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Sunita Williams, and Serena Auñón-Chancellor soar in this volume, while the included projects like designing and building space rovers and creating a model of the International Space Station develop critical thinking skills. This full-color book from the Gutsy Girls Go For Science series is sure to make her look at the night sky in a whole new way.

Sally Ride

A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space

Sally Ride

A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space

Written by: Tam O'Shaughnessy
Recommended Age: 9 - 12

This photobiography of the first American woman in space gives a unique peek at the life of Sally Ride! Ride was a competitive tennis player, a book lover, and — believe it or not — an underachiever (at least according to her high school classmates.) After she made history as an astronaut, she also served as an advocate for space exploration and girls and women in science. This book written by Ride's partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, which is full of both personal and media photographs and illuminating and intimate anecdotes, provides a revealing look at this pioneer of space travel.

Women In Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures

Women In Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures

Written by: Karen Bush Gibson
Recommended Age: 12 and up

There are few figures as inspiring as an astronaut: not only are they daring adventurers, they're also intelligent, dedicated scientists! In this book from the Women of Action series, kids will read about trailblazing women from ten different countries who dreamed of traveling to space. Including important figures like the Mercury 13, Valentina Tereshkova, Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Chiaki Mukai, Kalpana Chawla, and many more, this book shares the obstacles they faced, the wonders they saw, and the influence they've made on the world. For any science-lover or would-be space traveler, this book is full of inspiration.

Astronaut Doll

Astronaut Doll

Manufacturer: Mattel
Recommended Age: 3 - 7

Set your sights on space with this astronaut doll from the Barbie Careers line! In honor of Barbie's 60th anniversary, they're reproducing some of the over 200 careers Barbie has filled. This astronaut doll comes in a spacesuit printed with all the zippers, pockets, and hoses that a real astronaut has, as well as white gloves, boots, and helmet. She's sure to inspire your Mighty Girl to reach for the stars!

LEGO Women of NASA Building Kit

LEGO Women of NASA Building Kit

Manufacturer: LEGO
Recommended Age: 10 and up

Build a tribute to some of the ground-breaking women who took American into space with this much-anticipated set from LEGO Ideas! This fan-designed set features astronomer Nancy Grace Roman; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; astronaut and physicist Sally Ride; and astronaut, physician and engineer Mae Jemison, each as part of a vignette depicting their role with NASA. It's a wonderful way to inspire the women in STEM of future generations!

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