Nasa cancels all-female spacewalk, citing lack of spacesuit in right size

Matthew Cantor


Nasa’s plans for the first all-female spacewalk have fallen through – at least in part because the agency doesn’t have enough spacesuits that fit the astronauts.

What should have been a giant leap for womankind has turned into a stumble after Nasa said on Monday night that they will only have access to one correctly sized spacesuit top by Friday when the walk was scheduled. One of the two women on the mission, Anne McClain, will now have to give up her place to a male colleague.

She thought a large-sized suit would be fine but after a spacewalk last week found that the medium-sized was a better fit and would be the most appropriate suit to wear to venture back outside the International Space Station.

“Anne trained in ‘M’ and ‘L’ and thought she could use a large but decided after [last] Friday’s spacewalk a medium fits better,” a Nasa spokeswoman, Stephanie Schierholz, announced on Monday.

“In this case, it’s easier (and faster!) to change space-walkers than reconfigure the spacesuit.”

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The news was met with disappointment and some 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 suuper [sic] 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,’” Emily Lakdawalla, a senior editor at the US non-profit the Planetary Society, wrote on Twitter. “An all-woman spacewalk WILL eventually happen.”

Early this month, Nasa announced that Christina Koch and Anne McClain would take part in the first-of-its kind mission on 29 March, walking outside the international space station (ISS) to install new batteries. In the past, missions have been all-male or male-female.

But in a press release on Monday, Nasa said its plans had changed, “in part” due to a shortage of outerwear. McClain had “learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit – fits her best.” Only one such top can be made by Friday, the agency said, and it will go to Koch.

When McClain took part in a spacewalk last week, she became the 13th woman to do so, Nasa says; Koch will be the 14th. McClain is now “tentatively scheduled” to perform her next one on 8 April.

McClain is sharing both spacewalk missions with men.

The first woman to perform a spacewalk was the Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, 35 years ago. More than 500 people have been into space, but only 11% have been women. But Koch and McClain were both part of Nasa’s 2013 class, which was 50% female.

Fitting for spacesuits is a tricky business, according to Space.com, since microgravity makes you taller. McClain tweeted this month that she was 2in taller than when she launched.