Technology & Science

NASA nixes all-women spacewalk for lack of smaller spacesuit size

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 made a personnel change to what would have been the first all-female spacewalk — because a spacesuit didn't fit one of the astronauts. 

Agency chooses faster option of swapping in larger astronaut for Friday's spacewalk

NASA astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were to conduct a spacewalk on Friday, but the ISS only has one extravehicular activity (EVA) suit with a medium-size torso component and both women prefer that measurement. McClain took part in a spacewalk on March 22 and discovered the larger size she was wearing did not fit her as well as medium. (Getty Images )

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 made a personnel change to what would have been the first all-female spacewalk — because a spacesuit didn't fit one of the astronauts.

Anne McClain and Christina Koch had been due to step into history books on Friday, during the final week of Women's History Month.

But McClain will now give up her place on the mission to her male colleague, Nick Hague, NASA announced late Monday.

"Mission managers decided to adjust the assignments, due in part to spacesuit availability on the station," NASA said in a statement.

"McClain learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso — essentially the shirt of the spacesuit — fits her best. Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it."

Nearly 60 years after the first human blasted off into space, less than 11 per cent of the 500-plus people who have travelled to space have been women, and spacewalk teams have either been all male or male-female.

Astronaut in talks about change in plans

McClain and Koch were both part of the 2013 NASA class that was 50 per cent women.

In 54 years of spacewalking, women have only gone outside with men. That's because men have always outnumbered women in space. As women continue to make up a greater percentage of the astronaut
corps, more gender records will be set and not just in spacewalking,NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean noted.

NASA said the decision to change the plan was made in consultation with McClain after a spacewalk last week.

"Anne trained in M and L and thought she could use a large but decided after Friday's spacewalk a medium fits better," wrote spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz on Twitter.

Flight engineer Nick Hague will join Christina Koch on this Friday's spacewalk, in place of Anne McClain. Hague worked with McClain during last Friday's spacewalk. (Dmitri Lovetsky/Associated Press)

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

The NASA announcement was met with disappointment and anger by many following the much-anticipated mission on social media, with some arguing an all-female spacewalk was overdue.

Others said they were sad that a milestone moment on women's space exploration had been deferred, but safety came first.

"I'm super disappointed about the all-woman spacewalk not happening as scheduled this Friday but I'm also super supportive of astronauts having the authority to say 'I would be safer using a different piece of equipment'," wrote Emily Lakdawalla, a senior editor at the U.S. non-profit The Planetary Society.

"An all-woman spacewalk WILL eventually happen."

With files from The Associated Press

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