All-female spacewalk cancelled over spacesuit sizes
Lack of smaller-sized equipment means two women astronauts cannot venture out together
Nasa has cancelled plans for its first ever all-female spacewalk because the International Space Station (ISS) only has one spacesuit that fits its female crewmembers.
US astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch “were set to make history” on Friday, venturing into space together to install new lithium-ion batteries on one of the station’s solar power units.
It is the second of three such operations, and follows McClain becoming the 13th woman to participate in a spacewalk on the first expedition on 22 March, alongside colleague Nick Hague, The Guardian reports.
Although the pairing of two female astronauts for the assignment “was a happy coincidence, not a pre-meditated event”, it attracted “wide media coverage”, says Science Alert.
In another coincidence, the lead flight director and lead spacewalk flight controller from ground control are also women.
However, in a statement released yesterday, Nasa said that the landmark mission will not go ahead, due to a lack of equipment small enough to fit both astronauts.
Spacesuits do not come in male and female versions, but are instead made up of individual pieces in various sizes, with the smallest being a medium.
According to the Nasa statement, McClain had trained in both a medium and a large hard upper torso - the top part of the suit - but reported after her 22 March expedition with Hague that medium was a better fit.
Koch requires the same size, and “because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it”, the space agency said.
According to Science Alert, the ISS does actually have two medium-sized torsos on board, but reconfiguring the individually tailored spacesuits is a lengthy and complicated process, “so NASA went with the fastest and easiest solution - replace the astronaut, not the suit”.
Koch will instead be accompanied by Hague when she sets out on Friday. McClain is scheduled to join Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques for the third and final spacewalk on 8 April.