Why Did NASA Just Cancel the First All-Female Spacewalk?

28 March, 2019, 07:23 | Author: Ann Santiago
  • Enlarge ImageNASA astronaut Anne Mc Clain during her March 22 spacewalk.                  NASA

Earlier this month, it was announced to the glee of many #WomenInStem enthusiasts that astronauts Anne C. McClain and Christina H. Koch would conduct a spacewalk on March 29, supported by an unintentionally put-together all-female crew on Earth. It was during that mission, NASA said, that McClain discovered "a medium-size hard upper torso - essentially the shirt of the spacesuit - fits her best". The pair will be working to install powerful lithium-ion batteries for the International Space Station during their mission.

It's been 35 years since cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to walk in space when she stepped outside the Salyut 7 space station. "An optimally fitted spacesuit improves an astronaut's ability to accomplish the tasks".

Teams sent to space have traditionally been all-male or male-female.

The outlet reported that McClain had initially meant to wear a large-sized suit, before deciding she would feel more comfortable in a medium-sized suit during a spacewalk last week.

She wore a medium when she went out on her first spacewalk last Friday and was supposed to switch to a large this week. McClain will wear it during the third spacewalk, scheduled for April 8.

After some of the response, the agency clarified its reasoning on Twitter, explaining that it has more than one medium suit onboard - there just wasn't enough time to fit and adjust that piece ahead of Friday's spacewalk. While there are two medium suits on board, reps have stated it's more efficient to swap spacewalkers than to reconfigure the elements of the spacesuit.

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The revelation from NASA that it can not outfit two female astronauts in spacesuits at the same time drew outrage on Twitter, including from former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Unlike in science fiction films, where astronauts all rush to suit up at once, NASA does not keep space suits on ISS for everyone at all times. U.S. EVA-53 on March 29 is planned to be the 215th performed at the ISS since 1998.

"To date, almost 60 American women have flown in space", according to The Atlantic.

McCain was the 13th women in Space history to complete a spacewalk and Koch will become the 14th. A decorated Army major and combat pilot, she is serving as a flight engineer for NASA Expeditions 58 and 59. Spacewalks on other missions have always been either all-male or male-female.

For now, it does not seem that NASA will try to do another women-only spacewalk in the near future.

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