Defying Gravity, Part 5

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 fifth was astronaut Tamara E. Jernigan.

Payload Commander Tamara E. Jernigan is shown here practicing the operation of the Remote Manipulator Arm system for STS-67. She is in the Crew Compartment Trainer within the Shuttle Training Facility at Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA
Mission Specialist Tamara Jernigan during her EVA. Credit: NASA

Tamara E. Jernigan

Tamara E. Jernigan completed five space missions, and it was during the STS-96 mission on Space Shuttle Discovery that she stepped out of the hatch to complete her EVA. She only took one spacewalk in her career, but it was a long one at 7 hours and 55 minutes. Jernigan and her crewmate Daniel Barry spent that time installing important components for the Interntaional Space Station (ISS), including two cranes that were moved from the Shuttle to the outside of the ISS.

Jernigan made five flights into space aboard the Space Shuttles, including the STS-40 Spacelab Life Sciences (SLS-1) mission on Space Shuttle Columbia. This mission was dedicated to space and life sciences, and the crew studied how humans, animals and cells adapt to microgravity. Their research continued back on Earth while they studied how these living organisms responded to spaceflight after returning to the surface.


One of the things that makes it so challenging is that we’re constructing the Station hundreds of miles above the surface of the Earth and we’re doing it one piece at a time… …For the International Space Station we do not have the privilege of assuming the Space Station is on the ground before we take it up one piece at a time. So we have to be very clever about the testing that we do and the training that we do to make sure that each mission is successful, and that each piece and each mission goes just as it’s planned.” – Tamara E. Jernigan on her contribution to the construction of the ISS, from


Crew members working in the SLS-1 simulator are shown. Activities in the module mockup include work with the cardiovascular equipment, Body Mass Measurement Device, and Jellyfish experiment. From NASA STI Program.


Tamara E. Jernigan. Credit: NASA