NASA Cancels First All-Female Spacewalk for an Odd Reason

March 27, 2019by Mark Price
Astronaut James H. Newman waves during a spacewalk preparing for release of the first combined elements of the International Space Station. The Russian-built Zarya module, with its solar array panel visible here, was launched into orbit fifteen years ago on Nov. 20, 1998. Two weeks later, on Dec. 4, 1998, NASA's space shuttle Endeavour launched Unity, the first U.S. piece of the complex. During three spacewalks on the STS-88 mission, the two space modules built on opposite sides of the planet were joined together in space, making the space station truly international. (NASA/TNS)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The first all-female spacewalk — featuring a graduate from N.C. State University — has been canceled by NASA for an odd reason.

They couldn’t find a space suit the right size in the closets of the International Space Station.

There is only one medium-sized suit that has been properly fitted, so only one woman can participate in the walk Friday, said NASA in a press release.

The spacewalk will continue as planned, but N.C. State grad Christina H. Koch will be accompanied by a man, Nick Hague, says NASA.

Meanwhile, her expected walk partner, Anne McClain, will watch from inside the station.

“McClain learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit – fits her best,” said NASA in a release. “Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it.”

The Friday spacewalk will start at 8:20 a.m., says NASA.

McClain became the 13th woman to perform a spacewalk on March 22. Koch will become the 14th on Friday, says NASA.

Koch is a native of Michigan and graduated from N.C. State University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Physics and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, says NASA.

NASA’s decision to cancel the all-female spacewalk provoked some backlash on social media, with some critics wondering if the agency was being risky in having women astronauts to do their “job in equipment that was built to accommodate men’s bodies.”

The agency responded early Tuesday to the criticism and questions.

“We’ve seen your comments about the spacesuit availability for Friday’s spacewalk,” the agency said in a Facebook post.

“To clarify, we have more than one medium size spacesuit segment aboard the International Space Station. Astronaut Anne McClain trained in both a medium and large spacesuit, but after our March 22 spacewalk, she decided a medium fits better. In this case, it’s safer and faster to change spacewalker assignments than reconfigure the spacesuit.”

NASA said it was a matter of not having enough time to prep the other medium suit.

Space.com noted this week that fittings for spacesuits can be problematic “because the human body grows taller in microgravity.”

McClain tweeted earlier this month that she had grown 2 inches since arriving at the space station.

NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz told the New York Times Monday that adjustments could be made to fix a suit for McClain, but the work could not be finished in time and would involve “some additional risk.”

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©2019 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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