Michigan native to travel in NASA's 1st all-female spacewalk

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

A Michigan native is set to join the first all-female spacewalk crew expected to launch later this month, NASA announced Friday.

Astronaut Christina Koch, born in Grand Rapids, has been teamed up with astronaut Jessica Meir to venture out Oct. 21 to plug in upgraded batteries for the solar power system.

It will be the fourth of five spacewalks for battery work. The first is Sunday when Koch will go out with Andrew Morgan for the International Space Station.

Koch, an electrical engineer, is more than 200 days into an approximately 328-day mission, which will set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, according to NASA.

In this photo made available by NASA astronaut Jessica Meir on Sept. 29, 2019, Christina H. Koch, left, and Meir greet each other after Meir's arrival on the International Space Station. On Friday, Sept. 4, 2019, NASA announced that the International Space Station's two women will pair up for a spacewalk on Oct. 21 to plug in new batteries.

She said it is important that her accomplishments are viewed in terms of being a female astronaut.

"In the past, women haven’t always been at the table," Koch said during a televised interview earlier this week. "And it’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role, and that can lead, in turn, to increased chance for success."

Koch was supposed to do a spacewalk with another female crewmate in March. But NASA had to scrap the plan just a few days in advance because there wasn’t enough time to get a second medium-size spacesuit ready. The second medium was put together on board in June.

NASA’s deputy chief astronaut Megan McArthur told reporters the all-female spacewalk will be a milestone. But she noted that women are so integrated at all levels at NASA now that they don’t tend to dwell on gender, according to an Associated Press report.

"I’m sure that they’ll sit back and reflect on it, as we all will. We will all celebrate that," McArthur said.

Since the world’s first spacewalk in 1965, only 14 women have done them, versus 213 men, according to NASA.

"There are a lot of people that drive motivation from inspiring stories from other people who look like them and I think it's an important aspect of the story to tell," Koch said.

Astronaut Christina Koch

To say Koch's resume is impressive is an understatement. 

After leaving Michigan, Koch grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina and later lived in Livingston, Montana. She graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, North Carolina where she received her masters in science and electrical engineering.

She graduated from NASA's Academy program at Goddard Space Flight Center in 2001 and after more than a decade of hard work, she was selected in 2013 as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class.

She was assigned to her first space flight, a long-duration mission on the International Space Station, in 2018.

After launching in Expedition 61, she's scheduled to remain in orbit until February. While onboard, she'll work on scientific research, station maintenance, visiting vehicle operations and spacewalks that we, on earth, can watch live on nasa.gov/live.