Nasa cancels first ever all-female spacewalk because it doesn’t have the right spacesuits

Nasa has cancelled the first ever all-female spacewalk, saying it doesn’t have enough spacesuits ready in the right size.

Two of the astronauts currently on the International Space Station – Christina Koch and Anne McClain – had been set to head out of the floating lab to install powerful new batteries on the outside to charge up from its solar arrays on the outside.

But now the space agency says a problem with spacesuits will mean McClain is unable to take part in the spacewalk, and she will be replaced by a man, fellow Nasa astronaut Nick Hague.

The problem arose because during a recent spacewalk it became clear that McClain was finding that a medium-size “hard upper torso” – the spacesuit’s shirt – fit her best. But there can only be one medium-sized shirt available for the spacewalk on Friday, Nasa said, and that is being worn by Koch.

That led mission managers to rearrange the assignments and bring in a man instead, undoing the vast excitement that had been built up for the first ever spacewalk conducted only by women.

Nasa spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz said McClain had actually trained in both sizes of spacesuit, and that it had initially looked as if she could wear a bigger one.

“We have another medium size spacesuit segment on the station; Anne trained in M and L and thought she could use a large but decided after Friday’s spacewalk a medium fits better,” she wrote. “In this case, it’s easier (and faster!) to change spacewalkers than reconfigure the spacesuit.”

Schierholz had also noted when the all-female spacewalk was announced that “assignments may be adjusted if the flight operations team deems it necessary”, and that it had happened by coincident rather than through any planning.

McClain is now “tentatively” scheduled to do her next spacewalk on 8 April, Nasa said. But she will do that work alongside Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, dashing hopes of another all-female spacewalk any time soon.

There are actually enough medium-sized hard upper torso pieces on the space station, but they will not be ready for the walk on Friday.

The International Space Station has a set of different pieces of spacesuit: not only the shirt that has proved to be a problem, but kit to cover an astronaut’s entire body and serve as a spacesuit while they are floating outside of the space station. But worries have repeatedly been raised about the future of that gear, and whether there is enough to allow the astronauts to effectively do their job.

In 2017, a Nasa report drew attention to the fact that it was running out of functioning spacesuits and that the situation could become a problem in the future. While it has been working on new suits, making them is very expensive and they are not expected to be available any time soon.

“Of the 11 remaining complete and functional spacesuits, 4 are kept on the ISS and the remaining 7 are on Earth in various stages of refurbishment and maintenance,” the audit noted.


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