As a kid, I wanted to be a singer, a veterinarian, a gymnast. I wanted to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But nothing about the darkness of space ever appealed to me. I sobbed so hard during Armageddon my babysitter almost administered CPR.
Today, watching Jessica Meir and Christina Koch take the first-ever all-female spacewalk outside the International Space Station, I, as a fully adult woman, finally wanted to be an astronaut.
How much of what we think we want to be is what we’re told we can be? That’s what I kept wondering as I watched Meir and Koch float around the giant mass of white space tech in their bulky suits. For years, women were barred from America’s astronaut program: Women couldn’t even join until 1978, and Sally Ride became the first woman to fly into space in 1983, only seven years before I was born. In the ’60s, scientists suggested that putting hormonal women around a “complicated machine” could cause problems; the idea that having a period in space was dangerous persisted for over a decade with no evidence. Today, the barriers are subtler — the first all-woman spacewalk was initially meant to happen in March, but it was canceled after NASA realized it didn’t have enough spacesuits to fit two women.
Despite the power of the moment, of seeing Koch and Meir onscreen and hearing their voices communicating with other women scientists on the ground, they were also just doing their jobs. They were talking in deeply technical language about changing something called a battery charge discharge unit, “verifying” some kind of “ratchet wrench,” occasionally commenting on the beauty of what they saw down below, saying “Hi” to the San Diego coastline. “We don’t really even think about it on a daily basis,” Meir told NASA TV earlier in the month about being the first women out there alone together. “It’s just normal. We’re part of the team.”