First Space Walk by a European Woman

Samantha Cristoforetti

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency (ESA), carried out her first space walk, which was also the first space walk by a European woman.

Since 1988, twelve European astronauts, all men, have carried out a total of  30 extra-vehicular walks, lasting a total of more than a week, from the Mir space station, the American shuttle and the International Space Station. Thomas Pesquet and Luca Parmitano made a total of six each. On 22 July, it was at last the turn of a European woman to venture out of the Station in a space suit: Samantha Cristoforetti, the European Space Agency’s Italian astronaut made history by exiting from the Russian Poisk module, for a seven-hour and five-minute adventure with veteran Oleg Artemiev (five space walks to his credit and already 34 hours and 39 minutes spent trekking outside the ISS).

Samantha Cristoforetti during a yoga session in the ISS.

Samantha Cristoforetti during a yoga session in the ISS.

Samantha Cristoforetti follows the Russian Svetlana Savitskaya and American Kathryn Sullivan in 1984, then Chinese astronaut Wang Yaping in 2021, and is only the 18th woman to “walk” in space, preceded by 224 men since 1965.

Walk on the Russian Side

This walk, the sixth from the ISS this year, is also exceptional as it took place on the Russian segment of the station, with the Russian Orlan suits, and not from the Western segment, with the EMU suits which we are used to from Thomas Pesquet‘’s and Luca Parmitano‘s walks, or, more recently, that of Matthias Maurer.

In fact, no European astronaut has participated in a space walk using Russian suits and procedures since Jean-Pierre Haigneré, on the Mir station, in 1999.

The Russian Orlan suits, in the Poisk module.

The Russian Orlan suits, in the Poisk module.

The reason for this was that the main objective of this space walk was to work on the European space Agency’s ERA (European Robotic Arm). Developed between 1998 and 2004, it had remained stuck on the ground for fourteen years while Russia was completing the preparation of the Nauka laboratory module. When the Europeans signed the agreement for it to be carried on the Russian module, it was to lift off in 2007. It finally only reached the ISS in July 2021.


Handfuls of Satellites

A bit behind schedule, the two astronauts left the Poïsk module at 16.50 (14.50 UT). Oleg Artemiev was wearing the suit with red bands, and Samantha Cristoforetti, the one with blue bands.

Their first task was to release, by hand, ten cubesats designed by students and fitted with a handle to make their deployment easier.


Release of a nano satellite by hand.

The two astronauts then took an “extension” from the lock for the ERA arm, which was stored outside the module. Then they went to the Nauka module to install a work platform near the arm. Later, it could hold tools or experiments.

They also removed the protective cover of a camera at the end of the arm for tests, before using the external control panel on it (designed to be compatible with the gloves of the suits) to put it into “storage” mode, and finally to replace the protective cover. What had been the arm’s storage area was also cleared so that a tool platform for the ERA can be installed on a future walk.

Samantha ERA

Samantha Cristoforetti in front of the external control panel of the ERA arm.

The astronauts were then to have worked on the Strela 2 mast which is used during the transfer of astronauts in the Russian segment, but the previous activities took longer than planned, and the Orlan suits warned their occupants that they would be better to get back to the Poïsk module’s lock, which they closed at 23.55 (21.55 UT).

Another walk from the Russian segment is planned for the end of the month, but Oleg Artemiev will carry it out with his compatriot Denis Matveyev. As for Samantha Cristoforetti, she should be returning to Earth in September, or maybe October, depending on the date when the next SpaceX capsule can be launched.