NASA responds to backlash over cancellation of first all-female spacewalk

Katie Ramirez
March 29, 2019

What should have been a giant leap for womankind has turned into a stumble on the path to equality after United States space agency Nasa cancelled the first all-female spacewalk because of a lack of a spacesuit in the right size.

Astronaut Anne McClain was supposed to float out of the International Space Station this Friday with newly arrived Christina Koch, to replace old batteries. And, it just so happens, McClain-the astronaut who got shut out of this historic walk-belongs to one of them.

In a statement, the American space agency explained that both astronauts chose to alter the assignments "due in part to spacesuit availability" on the International Space Stations.

Last week, Anne McClain worked outside the station with Hague when she made the realization that it would have been better for her to have a medium-sized upper half of her spacesuit. (There are two medium-size suits available, but one is not now suitable for work outside the spacecraft.) Ill-fitting suits can affect visibility and mobility while conducting tasks outside the space station, as well as create difficulty changing the settings within the suit itself.

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To date, spacewalks have all been entirely male-led or a mix of male and females, but never all-female. He said he believed McClain did the right thing, adding that he was "very proud to run an agency where people are making decisions in the best interest of the mission, even if it wasn't in the best interest of herself". But it's not that simple. This is partly due to the effects of microgravity, or weightlessness.

The spacesuits available at the ISS are assemblies of several parts put together, as best adapted to each astronaut's body, according to NASA. On the other hand, wearing a HUT that is too small can cause shoulder injuries, the report states. Koch, who has a background in electrical engineering and physics, will launch into space on March 14 and join McClain at the ISS.

The mission would have been a fitting landmark moment during Women's History Month, though NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz tells CNN's Gianluca Mezzofiore that it "was not orchestrated to be this way" and "assignments and schedules could always change". However, to reduce spending, the agency ended up developing only three sizes (medium, large and extra large), which would fit most astronauts.

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