According to NPR, the historic all-female spacewalk originally scheduled for this Friday will not go forward for wardrobe reasons — or, more precisely, because NASA could not supply one of the lady astronauts with a medium-sized spacesuit. A male astronaut will take her place instead, making this a small step back for women.
As Women’s History Month kicked off, feminists were ecstatic over news that astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch would be partaking in a historic spacewalk on the International Space Station as part of Expedition 59. Unfortunately, astronaut Ann McClain will no longer be able to participate after recently discovering her inability to maneuver properly in the large-sized spacesuit.
“Last week, NASA astronaut Anne McClain wore a large-sized spacesuit to conduct her first spacewalk, where she helped swap out aging batteries that store energy collected by the station’s solar panels,” reports NPR. “While she was working, she realized that her suit was too big to maneuver in comfortably. Instead of the large, she would need a medium-sized hard upper torso — what NASA calls ‘the shirt of the spacesuit.'”
“Two mediums existed on the ISS, but only one was prepped for a spacewalk,” the report continued. “Instead of devoting extensive crew time to make the extra medium-sized suit space-worthy by Friday, NASA decided to restaff: Nick Hague will go in McClain’s place and do the walk with Christina Koch.”
Speaking with The New York Times, NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said completing the mission was top priority for NASA rather than executing a cultural milestone. “When you have the option of just switching the people, the mission becomes more important than a cool milestone,” she said.
Given the level of high diversity at NASA, Stephanie Schierholz expressed confidence that a historic all-female spacewalk will take place in the future. “We’re sort of getting to the point of inevitability,” she told the Times.
The spacewalk being a cultural milestone during Women’s History Month was entirely coincidental and was not guaranteed to happen from the outset. In fact, upon the spacewalk’s announcement earlier this month, NASA spokeswoman Kathryn Hambleton told HuffPost that unforeseen events could change the outcome and that such spacewalks usually take place in the fall season.
“In a briefing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston this month, Ms. Lawrence, Ms. Kagey and Kenneth Todd, the station’s operations integration manager, said officials had not immediately recognized the significance of the original lineup for Friday’s ‘extravehicular activity,’ or EVA,” reports the Times. “It was only as they discussed the schedule during a meeting that they realized it was the first time they had scheduled an all-female spacewalk.”
Despite the lack of female presence in space, The New York Times reports that astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch will be assisted by a team at mission control led by women, “including the spacewalk’s flight director, Mary Lawrence, and its lead officer, Jackie Kagey.”
Unlike other male-dominated industries, NASA rarely gets much attention from feminists, primarily due to the fact that the number of female astronauts in space has been steadily increasing since Sally Ride came onto the scene in 1983.
“To date, nearly 60 American women have flown in space,” according to The Atlantic. “The latest class of NASA astronauts, selected in 2013, includes four women and four men. What’s most interesting … is not the gender parity. Two of the women have something the earliest female astronauts couldn’t: Military backgrounds. One of them, Anne McClain, is an Army major who flew helicopters during combat missions in Iraq.”