Two women floated out of the International Space Station Friday to replace a failed power control unit. The female astronauts remained attached to handrails on the exterior of the ISS for seven hours and 17 minutes, through harnesses and pairs of metal carabiners. They were 260 miles above the Earth as they performed their sensitive task.
To be sure, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir were not the first women to do an extravehicular activity, more popularly known as a spacewalk. Before them, 14 women have done so. Friday’s spacewalk was, however, the first time a female astronaut was not accompanied by a male colleague.
The all-female spacewalk would have happened earlier, but there was only one suit fit for a female onboard the ISS, and NASA had to have another made.
In contrast, there have been 213 men who have done the same. Women were admitted to space programs only in 1978, and a woman first walked on space only in 1984—the cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya.
“I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing,” Koch told reporters ahead of the spacewalk. “In the past, women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the space program at a time when all contributions are being accepted when everyone has a role. That can lead in turn to increased chance for success.”
Friday’s all-female spacewalk is a milestone because it highlights that things that were unimaginable before could now be accomplished. When before it was unheard of that women could go into space programs, much less walk on space, now they are happening—and more of the sort will take place in coming years until they are no longer a novelty.
It’s a message that should be given to girls at the outset: That they could be anything they want to be. But before they can take concrete steps toward their dream, they must first be able to imagine the possibilities.
Give the inspiration from these astronauts, girls should also be encouraged to venture into the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The perception that men are inherently more adept at STEM industries is fast waning. Women, once denied education and consigned to the duties of housekeeping, marriage and childbearing, are now able to accomplish the same tasks and become leaders in their respective fields.
Talent, leadership, passion, and commitment reside in women and men alike. The only barrier to realizing one’s potential is the failure to imagine that such feats can actually be achieved.