Defying Gravity, Part 6

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 sixth was astronaut Susan J. Helms.

On the space shuttle Discovery’s aft flight deck, astronaut Susan J. Helms handles controls for the Remote Manipulator System (RMS). The robot arm operated by Helms, was used to support several tasks performed by the crew during the almost 11-day mission. Credit: NASA
STS-102 mission astronaut Susan J. Helms works outside the International Space Station (ISS) while holding onto a rigid umbilical and her feet anchored to the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) robotic arm on the Space Shuttle Discovery. Credit: NASA

Susan J. Helms

US astronaut Susan J. Helms performed five space missions, including one as a member of the Expedition 2 crew aboard the ISS. While onboard the ISS, she and her crewmate Jim Voss performed an 8 hour and 56 minute spacewalk outside of the station. This is the longest single spacewalk to date.

Susan Helms was a major in the Air Force when she first flew in space, and with the STS-54 flight in 1993 she became the first US military woman to go to space. She was also a member of the crew that welcomed the first ‘space tourist’ into orbit.


"It’s easy to look down there and see the cities on occasion, and you can see evidence of humans inhabiting the planet. But there’s so much more of the planet that doesn’t show the human impact and it is a beautiful planet. And when you see the humans encroaching upon it, it makes you realize that the world is a limited resource. And because of that, we need to make sure we’re taking care of it." – Susan J. Helms, from the New Mexico Museum of Space History.


Susan Helms Joins Astronaut Hall of Fame . From NASAtelevision.


STS-102 mission astronaut Susan J. Helms moves along the exterior of the Space Shuttle Discovery during her extravehicular activity (EVA). Credit: NASA