International Space station, Mar 29: Today morning, Two astronauts suit up and head outside the International Space station for a spacewalk, but the two astronauts are not the duo we expected.
As per the original schedule, NASA had announced that today will write as the historical day as two women currently on board the ISS, Anne McClain and Christina Koch will make an all-female spacewalk in history. But due to lack of logistics and suit availability on the ISS, male astronauts, Nick Hague took place instead.
When NASA first announced that today’s scheduled spacewalk would be conducted by only women, the news was met with widespread praise and excitement. Since the advent of human spaceflight, only 13 women have ever performed spacewalks, and all of them have done their work with men. It’s no surprise that the news of the astronaut exchange was sawed with widespread disappointment and outrage.
The decision ultimately came from McClain. A week ago, she performed a spacewalk with Hague, the first in a series of three aimed at swapping out aging batteries on the outside of the ISS. During that walk, she wore a spacesuit that had a medium-sized torso, a hard fiberglass shell that covers the chest, stomach, and back. “It’s like a piece of armor,” Mark Vande Hei, a NASA astronaut who lived on the ISS in 2017, tells The Verge. Astronauts have different sizing options when they put on a suit, and McClain thought she could operate in either a medium-sized torso or a large-sized one. But when she worked with the medium, she realized that size suited her best and that she did not want to wear a large for her safety.
McClain decided that Koch should wear the medium one while Hague takes the large he used last week. When NASA first announced this, though, the agency made it seem as though there just wasn’t another medium option available. That triggered indignation at the thought that NASA did not have a supply of sizes suitable for women on board.
Meanwhile, the future of NASA’s spacesuit supply is miserable. A 2017 report by NASA’s inspector general found that of the original 18 suits the space agency created for the ISS, only 11 functioning ones remain. Just four of these suits, with life-support packs, are on the station right now. If anything happens to the current stock, NASA may not have enough spacesuits to perform activities outside of the space station over the next decade, a shortage that would affect all astronauts, regardless of gender.
That future isn’t here yet, and it’s possible there’s still time for an all-female spacewalk to happen. NASA maintains that it should be on the horizon since the space agency has more female astronauts than ever. But exactly when that will happen is still unclear. The next two women who will fly to the space station are Suni Williams and Nicole Mann, both of whom are flying on Boeing’s new crew capsule, the CST-100 Starliner. They will each be on separate flights of that vehicle, and the schedule is too fluid to know if they’ll have the chance to do any spacewalks with other women.