All Female Spacewalk Back on Track as NASA Readies for 10 EVAs

All Female Spacewalk Back on Track as NASA Readies for 10 EVAs

NASA is getting ready to conduct 10 spacewalks, or extravehicular activities (EVAs), over the next three months to replace batteries and repair a scientific instrument attached to the International Space Station (ISS).  Three NASA astronauts and one from the European Space Agency (ESA), two men and two women, will be involved in the EVAs.  One will pair the two women astronauts, the first time an all-woman spacewalk will take place.  One had been planned earlier this year, but had to be scuttled because of spacesuit issues.  NASA is confident that will not happen this time.

NASA officials offered a preview of the spacewalks at a briefing at Johnson Space Center today.  A key message from Kirk Shireman, ISS Program Manager, and Megan McArthur, Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office, is that the plans could change as each EVA takes place since they will be learning as they go along.

For now, at least, the first set of five are to replace batteries on the exterior of the ISS with new lithium-ion batteries just delivered by Japan’s HTV-8 cargo ship.  These EVAs require generic spacewalk training and all four of the U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) astronauts can do them:  NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Drew Morgan, and Jessica Meir, and ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano.

The second set are to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a particle physics experiment mounted on the outside of the ISS.  It is searching for antimatter to help solve the mystery of dark matter in the universe. It must operate at very cold temperatures and is cooled by liquid carbon dioxide.  All but one of the pumps have failed, however, and the only one still operating is on its last legs.  Although AMS was not designed to be serviced in orbit, NASA is determined to replace the pumps and replenish the carbon dioxide.  They have been working out how to do that for three years already.  Those tasks require specialized training.  Before they launched to the ISS, Morgan and Parmitano received that training and they will conduct all five of the spacewalks.

Today NASA provided the dates for the first set of five and their crew assignments.  Fifty-five USOS EVAs already have taken place on the ISS. These are numbers 56-60.

EVA 56:  October 6, Koch and Morgan
EVA 57:  October 11, Koch and Morgan
EVA 58:  October 16, Morgan and Meir
EVA 59:  October 21, Koch and Meir
EVA 60:  October 25, Meir and Parmitano

The spacewalkers will be assisted from inside the ISS by their USOS crewmates as well as by an astronaut colleague on the ground.  EVA 56 and 57 involve the same team.


EVA 59 will be the first all-female spacewalking duo — Koch and Meir.  That distinction was supposed to fall to Anne McClain and Koch earlier this year, but McClain recommended a change in plans after she conducted an earlier EVA.  The torsos of the spacesuits aboard ISS can be configured as medium or large depending on the stature of the astronauts using them. At the time, one was large and one was medium.  McClain thought she could use the large while Koch used the medium, but concluded after her first EVA that it would be difficult for her to use the large.  Rather than spending the time to reconfigure it as medium, she suggested that her male colleague, Nick Hague, do the spacewalk with Koch since he could use the larger suit.

Although the rationale was logical, it created quite a public relations stir with insinuations that NASA was discriminating against women.  Just one day later, Vice President Pence announced the decision to accelerate the goal of returning astronauts to the lunar surface and “the next man and the first woman” would land in 2024. NASA officials have repeatedly said since then that the lunar spacesuits definitely will be able to accommodate men or women of various sizes.

Asked about the spacesuit size issue today, Shireman repeated that the ISS suits have always been able to be reconfigured for different size crew members, but in any case a new medium-size suit was recently launched to the ISS because upcoming crews involve a number of people who need that size.  So there should be no issue this time.

NASA will provide live coverage of all the spacewalks.  On Sunday, it begins at 6:30 am ET.

In addition to the 10 USOS spacewalks, the two Russian ISS crewmembers, Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka, will do their own EVA on October 31.  ISS crews rotate on roughly 4-6 month schedules. NASA refers to each group as “expeditions.”  The current crew is referred to as Expedition 61.

The official Expedition 61 crew portrait with (from left) NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, astronaut Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency), Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, and NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch. Credit: NASA


Correction: Due to a typographical error, Sunday was originally shown as October 8 instead of 6.  EVA 56 is on Sunday, October 6.

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