NASA's first all-female spacewalk cancelled

Elizabeth Howe
March 26, 2019 - 7:46 am

Photo courtesy of NASA

NASA's first ever all-female spacewalk was to be conducted this Friday by Christina Koch and Army Lt. Col. Anne McClain. Unfortunately, the walk had to be canceled after NASA discovered it didn't have enough spacesuits on the station to properly outfit the two females. 

McClain, alongside Nick Hague, successfully completed the first of what is to be three spacewalks on last Friday, March 22. Upon completion, McClain shared vital information with the NASA team that would alter the second spacewalk. 

"After consulting with McClain and Hague following the first spacewalk, mission managers decided to adjust the assignments, due in part to spacesuit availability on the station," a statement from NASA read. "McClain learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit – fits her best."

McClain trained in both a large suit and a medium suit on Earth, but sizing can change in microgravity environments and no training environment can fully simulate performing a spacewalk. The physical demands of working in a pressurized spacesuit mean it is essential that the suit fits as well as possible. 

There are currently two medium, two large, and two extra large torsos on the space station — but one of the mediums is a spare and would need to be configured specifically for the individual astronaut. 

Only one medium-size torso will be ready for spacewalking by Friday, March 29. As Koch has yet to perform the task, she will wear the suit alongside Hague. 

But don't worry, McClain isn't done yet. On Monday, April 8, McClain will participate in the third spacewalk of the series alongside Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques. And an all-female spacewalk is on the horizon.

"We believe an all-female spacewalk is inevitable," said NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz. "This is made more likely by the increase in the percentage of women who have become astronauts. 50 percent of the 2013 astronaut candidate class are women, and of the 11 members of 2017 astronaut candidate class (which is still training), five are women."

Each of the three spacewalks in the series will occur during Women's History Month. McClain is the thirteenth female spacewalker and Kock is the fourteenth. Two females also fill key roles in Mission Control — Mary Lawrence as the lead flight director and Jaclyn Kagey as the lead spacewalk officer.

While the walks were not purposefully planned for Women's History Month, Schierholz says it gave NASA a great opportunity to highlight women at NASA. 

"It provides us a good opportunity to highlight the incredible talent of some of the women who work at NASA and the importance of their roles. NASA looks forward to being able to celebrate the first all-female spacewalk and other firsts for women in the future."

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