No-Go on First All-Female Spacewalk

No-Go on First All-Female Spacewalk

NASA announced a change of plans today for the spacewalks taking place at the International Space Station (ISS).  On Friday, the first-ever all-female spacewalk was planned with NASA astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch.  A spacesuit issue has derailed those plans however.  Koch will now be paired with NASA astronaut Nick Hague.

NASA is conducting a series of three spacewalks to replace batteries on the outside of ISS and perform other maintenance tasks.  Hague and McClain conducted the first on Friday, March 22.  McClain and Koch were scheduled for the second, and Hague and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques for the third on April 8.

Now it will be Koch and Hague on Friday, and, tentatively, McClain and Saint-Jacques on April 8, though NASA said that decision will be finalized later.

ISS crew, March 14, 2019. L-R: front row Nick Hague (US), Aleksey Ovchinin (Russia), Christina Koch (US); back row Anne McClain (US), Oleg Kononenko (Russia), David Saint-Jacques (Canada). Screengrab from NASA TV.

According to NASA, “after consulting with McClain and Hague following the first spacewalk,” plans were changed “due in part” to the availability of appropriately-sized spacesuits.  McClain needs a spacesuit with a medium-size upper torso.  Apparently Koch needs the same size and there is only one currently available.

Astronauts and cosmonauts have been making spacewalks, or Extravehicular Activities (EVAs), since 1965.  The first women performed them in 1984.  This would have been the first time two women performed one together, however, which was viewed as a milestone.

McClain became the 12th American woman to perform a spacewalk on Friday.  Kathy Sullivan was the first in 1984 on the STS 41-G space shuttle flight.  Her feat was preceded by just a few months by the Soviet Union’s Svetlana Savitskaya in what has been the only Soviet/Russian spacewalk to involve a woman.  It was well known that Sullivan was going to make a spacewalk and many view Savitskaya’s as simply a way for the Soviet Union to claim it was first.

NASA’s Peggy Whitson holds the record for the most spacewalks by a woman — 10 — spending a total of 60 hours and 21 minutes outside the ISS.

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