NASA accused of sexism after it cancels first all-women space walk

Story by CBC Kids News • 2019-03-26 14:59
UPDATE: On Oct. 18, 2019, astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made "HERstory," as NASA called it, when they did the first all-female spacewalk. UPDATE: On March 27, 2019, astronaut Anne McClain tweeted that the decision to cancel the all-female spacewalk was based on her recommendation. "Leaders must make tough calls," she tweeted, "and I am fortunate to work with a team who trusts my judgement." McClain said safety must come first.

NASA says it’s easier to change spacewalkers than adjust a spacesuit

When asked whether girls can be astronauts, U.S. astronaut Anne McClain tweeted that while there are many obstacles on the journey to space, your gender isn’t one of them.

Now some people are questioning those words, after NASA announced on Wednesday that it was cancelling the first all-female spacewalk in history, because the right equipment wasn’t available.

Two female astronauts from the U.S. — McClain and Christina Koch — were supposed to put on their spacesuits and do some work outside of the International Space Station on March 29.

But following her first spacewalk on March 22, McClain realized she needed a spacesuit with a medium-sized torso — or shirt — instead of a large one.

Koch also needs a medium-sized suit and NASA says there’s only one available that day.

This means Koch will have to do the spacewalk with a male astronaut instead.

Anne McClain floats in space with planet Earth in the background.

U.S. astronaut Anne McClain got to do her first spacewalk outside the International Space Station on March 25, 2019. (NASA/Reuters)

McClain will still get to do another spacewalk on April 8, NASA said, but she’ll also be joined by a male astronaut.

Some people, including former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, were not impressed that NASA couldn’t make the first all-female spacewalk happen.

Tweet from Hillary Clinton says make another suit.

Tweet from Michael E. Mann says Right Nasa, because we can put a man on the moon but we can't put a woman in a spacesuit?

Tweet from Kristine Ziwica says In 1965 even Barbie got to go to space. 2019 and we still don't have enough spacesuits for the first all female spacewalk?

When asked to react to the news, Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut, said this “should be a wake-up call.”

She said not having enough spacesuits available to fit women was a problem years ago, “and obviously nothing has changed.”

McClain didn’t respond to the controversy on social media.

But when asked in February for advice on what it takes to succeed as a female astronaut, she was encouraging:

Tweet from Michael Thornton says Help! Trying to connect with female astronaut for my daughter who wants to work at NASA. Boys at school told her girls can't be astronauts.

Tweet from Anne McClain says There are many hurdles to get over to becoming an astronaut, but your gender is not one of them. Recently AstroSerena and I worked together in space to fit-check my spacesuit to make sure it was ready to go. If you have the passion, drive and dedication, this will be you one day!

NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz said on Twitter that McClain had trained in both medium and large spacesuits.

She thought she could use a large one, but changed her mind after her first real spacewalk.

"In this case, it's easier (and faster!) to change spacewalkers than reconfigure the spacesuit,” Schierholz said.

Tweet from NASA says Spacewalks are a challenge but the right equipment makes the job easier. Spacesuits are the most important gear. To get the best fit, we've updated the assignments for our spacewalks.

With files from Thomson Reuters

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