A scheduled all-female spacewalk has been cancelled by NASA because of a lack of spacesuits in the proper size.
NASA astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were supposed to take part in the first all-female spacewalk on March 29. The space agency announced Tuesday, however, that “due in part to spacesuit availability on the station,” the mission assignments had been changed.
Koch will now be partnered with male astronaut, Nick Hague. The pair will be working to install powerful lithium-ion batteries for the International Space Station during their mission. It will be the second spacewalk of a series of three that NASA has planned.
The first spacewalk of the series was conducted by McClain and Hague last Friday. It was during that mission, NASA said, that McClain discovered “a medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit – fits her best.”
The problem is, Koch wears the same size — and only one medium-sized torso component is readily available on the space station.
The New York Times, quoting a NASA spokeswoman, reported that there are two medium-sized torsos currently on the ISS but “one has yet to be properly configured for a spacewalk. It would take hours of crew labor — not to mention some additional risk — to fix that in time” for Friday’s mission.
Brandi Dean of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, told Agence France-Presse that while NASA does its “best to anticipate the spacesuit size that each astronaut will need … individuals’ sizing needs may change when they are on orbit, in response to the changes living in microgravity can bring about in a body.”
Dean said spacesuits come in medium, large and extra large sizes.
“No one training environment can fully simulate performing a spacewalk in microgravity, and an individual may find that their sizing preferences change in space,” she said.
More than 200 spacewalks have been conducted at the ISS since the satellite was launched into orbit in 1998. All of them have been carried out by male-only or mixed male-female teams.