UAE astronaut to be the first Arab to spacewalk: Look at other milestones in history

Spacewalks are rare and only a select few are fit for the job. Here are some men and women who have done it in the past

by

Angel Tesorero

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American astronaut Scott Kelly during a spacewalk in 2015. — Reuters file
American astronaut Scott Kelly during a spacewalk in 2015. — Reuters file

Published: Sat 8 Apr 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 28 Apr 2023, 8:49 AM

The official term astronauts and scientists use is extravehicular activity or EVA; but spacewalk is not only simpler, it is also more descriptive and illustrative. It is the time when an astronaut or cosmonaut leaves a space capsule and, while tethered to it, floats or walks in space.

Spacewalks are rare – they're not only expensive, tedious and time-consuming, but most of all dangerous. Only a select few can do spacewalk, following intensive training to conduct outside repair of the spacecraft, install new pieces of equipment, or deploy and collect scientific experiments.


Here are the pioneering men and women of space exploration:

First human spacewalk

Alexei Leonov (L) and commander of the US crew of Apollo, Thomas Stafford, shake hands after the Apollo-Soyuz docking manoeuvres. — AFP file
Alexei Leonov (L) and commander of the US crew of Apollo, Thomas Stafford, shake hands after the Apollo-Soyuz docking manoeuvres. — AFP file

Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first human to ‘walk in space’ on March 18, 1965. Leonov, who trained with compatriot Yuri Gagarin (the first human to travel into space), stayed outside his craft for only a little over 12 minutes. Leonov was not only the first to conduct spacewalk, he also helped bridge the US/Soviet space competition. He flew into space again in 1975, commanding the Soviet crew of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, the first US–Soviet space flight.


First US spacewalk

Ed White. — AFP file
Ed White. — AFP file

Three months after Leonov’s space exploit, Nasa’s Ed White became the first American astronaut to conduct a spacewalk during Gemini IV mission in June 1965. White floated in space at an altitude of 160 kilometres above the Pacific Ocean at speed exceeding 28,100 kph. His only link to the spacecraft was a 25 foot, gold-coated tether and cord that supplied him with oxygen.

First moonwalk

US astronauts Neil Armstrong and 'Buzz' Aldrin deploy the US flag on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.  — AFP file
US astronauts Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin deploy the US flag on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. — AFP file

It was ‘one giant leap for mankind when NASA astronauts and Apollo 11 crew Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first landmark steps on the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969. The Apollo 11 crew left on the Moon an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle's legs that reads, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."

First woman to spacewalk

The first ever walk into outer space by a woman, Svetlana Savitskaya, during the space mission Soyuz T 12 to the Salyut 7 space station in 1984. — AFP file
The first ever walk into outer space by a woman, Svetlana Savitskaya, during the space mission Soyuz T 12 to the Salyut 7 space station in 1984. — AFP file

Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to spacewalk on July 25, 1984, nearly 20 years after compatriot Leonov first floated in space. Savitskaya and crewmate Vladimir Dzhanibekov spent more than three hours spacewalking, doing welding experiments on the outer hull of the Salyut 7 space station.

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First American woman

Kathryn D. Sullivan during spacewalk in 1984. — Courtesy: Nasa
Kathryn D. Sullivan during spacewalk in 1984. — Courtesy: Nasa

On October 11, 1984, American astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan stepped outside her spacecraft to do work in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle Challenger that was travelling 17,500 miles per hour about 225 kilometres above Earth. Sullivan was the first woman to wear the Shuttle-era spacesuit, the 225-pound Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), to work in space.

First African-American

Bernard Harris (L) and Michael Foale (R) do a stint in the end of Space Shuttle Discovery's robot arm. — AFP file
Bernard Harris (L) and Michael Foale (R) do a stint in the end of Space Shuttle Discovery's robot arm. — AFP file

Bernard Harris became the first African-American to perform a spacewalk on February 9, 1995. He served as the Payload Commander on STS-63, the first flight of the new joint Russian-American Space Programme. Harris dedicated his pioneering spacewalk to all African-Americans and carried the flag of the Navajo Nation into space with him to pay tribute to diverse cultures.

First all-female spacewalk

Jessica Meir (L) and Christina Koch (R) putting on their spacesuits as they prepare to leave the hatch of the International Space Station and begin the historical first-ever all-female spacewalk on October 18, 2019. — AFP file
Jessica Meir (L) and Christina Koch (R) putting on their spacesuits as they prepare to leave the hatch of the International Space Station and begin the historical first-ever all-female spacewalk on October 18, 2019. — AFP file

On October 18, 2019, Nasa astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history by completing the first ever all-female spacewalk. The duo spent seven hours outside the International Space Station (ISS) replacing a failed power control unit. It was Meir's first spacewalk and Koch's fourth, according to Nasa.

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First Arab to spacewalk

Sultan Al Neyadi. — Courtesy: Twitter
Sultan Al Neyadi. — Courtesy: Twitter

On April 28 this year, the UAE will become only the 10th country to undertake EVA outside the ISS, and the honour of becoming the first Arab to do spacewalk goes to Sultan AlNeyadi. He and Nasa Flight Engineer Stephen Bowen will work together for more than six hours as part of ISS’s 262nd spacewalk in support of assembly, maintenance, and upgrades on the orbiting space station.



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