Defying Gravity, Part 1

The gURLs who Spacewalk

Spacewalking astronauts are big right now thanks to a certain blockbuster movie full of A-List Hollywood Stars. In preparing for her role in Gravity, actress Sandra Bullock turned to real-life astronaut Cady Coleman for advice about what life in space is really like. But the big screen is obviously nothing like the real thing.

Stepping outside of a spacecraft that is orbiting our planet at speeds of thousands (and thousands) of miles per hour is a frightening prospect. So who are the brave women that have actually performed this heroic work in real life?

To this day, eleven women have made the journey. The first was Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya.

Svetlana Savitskaya, second woman in space and first to perform an extravehicular activity (EVA). On July 25, 1984, Savitskaya spent 3 hours and 35 minutes outside the Salyut 7 space station. Image Credit: NASA
Svetlana Savitskaya. Credit: Ria Novosti/Soviet Space Program
Svetlana Savitskaya

Svetlana Savitskaya was a Soviet cosmonaut and became the first woman to perform an extravehicular activity (EVA) – or spacewalk – on July 25, 1984. During her second trip to space, Savitskaya made her EVA from the Salyut 7 space station. She spent a total of 3 hours and 35 minutes working on the station exterior.

When she got back to Earth, Savitskaya was named commander of a Soyuz mission that included an all-female crew in celebration of International Women’s Day. Unfortunately, the mission was later cancelled.

Savitskaya was awarded the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ for her achievement, but it wasn’t just her spacewalk that earned her fame. Savitskaya, who is now a member of the Russian State Duma, has a long list of amazing accomplishments. These are just a few:

  • She was the second Russian woman in space.
  • She holds 18 international world records for piloting a MiG aircraft
  • She holds three records in parachute jumping
  • She won first place in the World Aerobatic Championship.

"When in orbit, one thinks of the whole of the Earth, rather than of one’s country, as one’s home." – Svetlana Savitskaya, from the New Mexico Museum of Space History.

In this NASA video from InsideISS, Actress Sandra Bullock and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman discuss preparations for the movie Gravity, and the ease of movement in microgravity aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Current astronaut Karen Nyberg then gives a demonstration of exactly what they’re talking about.


A commemorative stamp featuring Russian pioneers in spaceflight. From left to right: Leonid Popov, Svetlana Savitskaya and Aleksandr Serebrov. Credit: Wikimedia Commons