It is a big step for women.
If all goes according to plan, on March 29, astronauts aboard the International Space Station are scheduled to conduct the first all-female spacewalk. Anne McClain and Christina Koch will venture out together about 240 miles above Earth and make history. Adding to the significance of their mission, the spacewalk will take place during Women’s History Month.
“It was not orchestrated to be this way,” said NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz. “These spacewalks were originally scheduled to take place in the fall — they are to upgrade batteries on the space station.” McClain and Koch’s spacewalk will be the second of three planned excursions for Expedition 59, which launches next week on — what else? — Pi Day at 3:14 p.m. Eastern time.
Schierholz pointed to the fact that women would be at the controls as well. Mary Lawrence will serve as lead flight director, and Jackie Kagey will be the lead spacewalk flight controller.
One NASA flight controller expressed her excitement about working on the mission.
McClain is also slated to perform a spacewalk with astronaut Nick Hague on March 22.
“Of course, assignments and schedules could always change,” Schierholz said.
Both McClain and Koch were members of NASA’s 2013 astronaut class, half of which was made up of women.
McClain, a major in the U.S. Army and a pilot, “wanted to be an astronaut from the time I was 3 or 4 years old,” she said in a 2015 NASA video interview. “I remember telling my mom at that time, and I never deviated from what I wanted to be. Something about exploration has fascinated me from a young age.”
McClain is currently aboard the ISS, where she is accompanied by an adorable Earth plush toy.
Koch, an electrical engineer, will join her March 14 in what will be her first space flight, according to NASA. Space is just the latest exciting frontier Koch has conquered: Her work has taken her on expeditions to the South Pole and the Arctic.
When asked in a February interview about the importance of conducting her mission during Women’s History Month, she said, “It is a unique opportunity, and I hope that I’m be able to inspire folks that might be watching.”
Noting she did not have many engineers to look up to growing up in Jacksonville, N.C., she added, “I hope that I can be an example to people that might not have someone to look at as a mentor … that 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.”
“If that’s a role that I can serve,” she said, “it would be my honor to do that.”