NASA scraps all-women spacewalk because of a lack of well-fitted spacesuits at ISS

All 215 spacewalks by the space station crew till date have been male-only or mixed male-female teams.

The US space agency NASA scrapped a planned historic spacewalk by two women astronauts Monday, citing that there was a lack of available spacesuits to fit them at the International Space Station.

NASA's Christine Koch will now perform the spacewalk and related tasks on Friday with fellow American Nick Hague, instead of Anne McClain as originally planned. Had Koch and McClain done their spacewalk together, it would have been the first spacewalk in the 214 over the years to have two women astronauts. The mission was doubly significant as it brought an inspiring close to Women's History Month (March) in the US.

Until now, male-only or mixed male-female teams had conducted spacewalk since the space station was assembled in 1998 — 214 spacewalks until now.

McClain worked outside the station last week — with Hague — when she realized that a "medium"-sized upper half of her spacesuit fit her better.

NASA scraps all-women spacewalk because of a lack of well-fitted spacesuits at ISS

Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch, the original pairing for the all-women spacewalk on 29 March. Image: Adapted from NASA

"Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, 29 March, Koch will wear it," NASA explained.

The spacesuits aboard the ISS are in fact assemblies of several parts put together as best adapted to each astronaut's body, explained Brandi Dean, spokeswoman of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where American astronauts are based.

She said two of the upper parts in three available spacesuit sizes are currently held at the ISS: medium, large and extra large.

"We do our best to anticipate the spacesuit sizes that each astronaut will need, based on the spacesuit size they wore in training on the ground, and in some cases, astronauts train in multiple sizes," she said in explaining the problem that hampered Friday's planned spacewalk. "However, individuals' sizing needs may change when they are on orbit, in response to the changes living in microgravity can bring about in a body.

 

"In addition, no one training environment can fully simulate performing a spacewalk in microgravity, and an individual may find that their sizing preferences change in space."

Koch is an electrical engineer who made her debut space flight with the current Expedition 59.

Spacewalks are carried out for any of many reasons including work outside a spacecraft, science experiments or taking new equipment out for a spin, NASA says. Astronauts also fix satellites or spacecraft already in space during spacewalks, making it unnecessary (not to mention, a lot easier) than returning them to Earth for repairs. This particular spacewalk on 29 March will be to upgrade the batteries on the space station. The walk is expected to last roughly 7 hours and will be streamed live for viewers worldwide starting 4 pm IST on Friday, 29 March.

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