NASA Scrapped The Historic All-Women Spacewalk

Olive Hawkins
March 29, 2019

NASA's official statement on the matter reads: "Koch had been scheduled to conduct this spacewalk with astronaut McClain, in what would have been the first all-female spacewalk".

What should have been a giant leap for womankind has turned into a stumble on the path to equality after U.S. space agency Nasa cancelled the first all-female spacewalk because of a lack of a spacesuit in the right size. Because McClain grew in height by two inches since getting to space, the astronauts would have needed to configure the spare medium suit that fitted her, a thing they don't want to do because "the space station is on a very busy operational schedule".

In the almost 60 years of human spaceflight, there have only been four times when expeditions included two female members trained for space walks.

But although there are two M-sized suits on the ISS, only one of them is suitable for a spacewalk. And as Ars Technica reporter and NASA expert Eric Berger notes, having a well-fitting spacesuit is crucial to executing basic tasks in space, so "if McClain was uncomfortable in a large spacesuit, she (and NASA) made the correct call here".

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"Mission managers chose to adjust the assignments, due in part to spacesuit availability on the station", NASA said in a statement. Koch and McClain both came from the 2013 class, which was also half female, CNN reported.

There are now six spacesuits on board, including two in medium size, according to Stephanie Schierholz, spokesperson for NASA spaceflight. However, in order for them to walk, they both required a medium-sized spacesuit torso component, of which only one was available at the space station.

"We fully anticipated that we were going to be able to do the first all-female spacewalk", Bridenstine told a House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee during a hearing on the agency's proposed fiscal 2020 budget.

Schierholz refutes any immediate need for a new space suit. "For example, temperature is controlled through a rotary dial on the front of the EMU, which means smaller astronauts face visual and mechanical disadvantages that limit their ability to properly control suit temperature". NASA chose four women and four men that year. So, in support of McClain, Orangetheory has offered to fund the creation of a new spacesuit tailored to fit women. However, to reduce spending, the agency ended up developing only three sizes (medium, large and extra large), which would fit most astronauts.

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