NASA was set to make history last week with the world’s first all-female spacewalk scheduled for Friday, March 29.
Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Hammock Koch were due to perform a spacewalk to replace some old batteries on the International Space Station (ISS).
Spacewalks, formally called extravehicular activities or EVAs, are routine yet risky operations. During a spacewalk, a pair of astronauts put on bulky spacesuits, step outside the ISS, and work together in the unforgiving vacuum of space.
McClain and Koch were due to be supported by two women in Mission Control, too – lead flight director Mary Lawrence and spacewalk flight controller Jackie Kagey.
There have been more than 210 spacewalks over the space station’s 18-year history, and two female crew members have lived aboard the ISS several times before. But this was due to be the first all-female, women-led spacewalk operation ever conducted. Plus, this one happened to be scheduled during Women’s History Month.
However, all that has come undone because of a wardrobe issue.
NASA said in a statement on Monday last week that mission managers had decided to replace McClain with male astronaut Nick Hague, “due in part to spacesuit availability on the station.”
The agency said that a “medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit” fitted McClain best, however, since there was only one available to wear this Friday, Koch would wear it.
“McClain now is tentatively scheduled to perform her next spacewalk – the third in this series – on Monday, April 8 with Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques,” NASA said.
At this time, NASA has not yet planned another all-female spacewalk.
Spacesuit fittings are difficult because microgravity results in astronauts getting taller in space – McClain tweeted this month that she was two inches taller in space than when she launched.
The agency also did not intentionally plan the spacewalk to be all-female in the first place.
“It was not orchestrated to be this way,” Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA representative, said in a statement, noting that this particular spacewalk was originally slated to take place in the fall of 2018.
All-women coincidences like this will likely increase going forward, given the future composition of NASA’s new batches of astronauts and its human spaceflight division.
“All three NASA astronauts who will be on the space station are from the 2013 astronaut class that was 50% women. And the most recent class of flight directors was 50% women,” Schierholz said.