In 2019, two individuals made history. Jessica Meir and Christina Koch took the first all-female spacewalk. One small step for women, one monumental achievement for womenkind.
When Space Explorers: THE INFINITE arrives in Denver, guests in this interactive, virtual-reality experience will step outside the International Space Station on a walk of their own and then rejoin five inspiring female astronauts representing America, Canada and Italy. Get to know these space explorers before you join them as they eat, exercise and spend a day suspended in space.
ANNE C. MCCLAIN
After graduating West Point, Spokane, WA native Anne McClain was commissioned as an Army officer and began graduate studies in aerospace engineering. She has flown more than 2,000 hours in 20 different aircraft, and was flight engineer on the International Space Station.
She also played on the USA Rugby team, the USA Rugby Eagles. The exertion and stamina required by the sport lent itself to the extreme endurance required of astronauts, she told Sean McAlister, of Olympics.com.
“When I’m training in my space suit in the EMU and working in our large pool at the neutral buoyancy lab underwater, we’re under there for six hours at a time and you really work yourself to mental and physical exhaustion,” she said. “The only other time that I’ve hit that level of exhaustion is the 60th minute of a rugby match. When your body gets that physically tired you can’t mentally give up, you actually have to think about things more deliberately, with more clarity because you’re more prone to mistakes. And it’s the people that can overcome that physical [exertion] and keep going with the clarity of mind that win both rugby matches and find themselves successful at training in a space suit.”
CHRISTINA HAMMOCK KOCH
Koch was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., and was raised in Jacksonville, NC, earning bachelors and masters degrees in electrical engineering. She began her career at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics, working on space science instrument development and remote scientific field engineering. She worked as a research associate with the U.S. Antarctic during two separate periods, and worked at other remote stations in Alaska and American Samoa.
Koch became an astronaut through the NASA Academy program. She served on three missions to the International Space Station, where she was part of hundreds of experiments, including working on improvements to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which studies dark matter. She participated in six spacewalks, including the first three all-women spacewalks.
Last spring, she was chosen to be the first woman to orbit the moon, later this year. “When I first found out I was assigned to Artemis II, my thoughts were disbelief, an immense sense of honor and responsibility, and readiness; ready to try to make everyone proud and to really fulfill what this mission truly means to all humanity,” she said in a NASA video upon her appointment.
Jessica Meir grew up in Caribou, ME, the daughter of Israeli and Swedish immigrants. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Brown University and a master’s from International Space University, she received her doctorate in marine biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Meir studied the diving physiology of marine mammals and birds, continuing her research as an assistant professor at Harvard before joining the Johnson Space Center as a researcher on human physiology on the space shuttle and International Space Station. She was selected for the 21st NASA Astronaut Class in 2013.
Meir joined Koch on the first all-woman spacewalk. She spent a total of 205 days in space, orbited the Earth 3,280 times, and traveled 86.9 million miles. In 2020, she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
In March, she posted a picture of herself, pregnant with her first child, on Twitter, with the words, “This is what an astronaut looks like.” Last October, she was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.
Kathleen Rubins, who joined NASA in 2009, holds the distinction of being the first person to sequence DNA in space. She earned a PhD in cancer biology from Stanford University. She served as a flight engineer on the International Space Station during Expeditions 48 and 49, racking up 300 days in space.
During those expeditions, she traveled on the first test flight of the Soyuz MS spacecraft. She conducted two spacewalks totaling over 12 hours, sequenced over 2 billion base pairs of DNA, and grew heart cells in space.
While studying infectious diseases at MIT, she applied to NASA on a whim, the Napa Valley Register reported as she returned to her old high school to speak to students. “I was thinking in my head, ‘there’s no way, they’re not going to take a female, civilian biologist,’” she told the students, before emphasizing the diversity of today’s astronauts.
Entering her 20th year as an astronaut, Shannon Walker grew up in Houston and earned a PhD in space physics from Rice University. Before becoming an astronaut, she worked on flight control for several space shuttles and as a civilian NASA employee, working on the design and construction of robotics for the International Space Station, where years later she spent more than 300 days in space on three separate missions.
Walker later served as the supervisor to the 2021 class of astronauts. Last month, the Dr. Shannon Walker Library opened in the Westbury neighborhood of Houston.
Learn more about the experiences on the International Space Station from these astronauts and several others at Space Explorers: THE INFINITE.
Space Explorers: THE INFINITE
Feb 3-May 5, 2024 • Stanley Marketplace