It was the celestial sizing issue heard round the world: the first all-female spacewalk in NASA history, canceled due to lack of suits in a female fit.
The news didn’t come lightly, as scores of online critics took to social media, including former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who tweeted just three words Tuesday in response: “Make another suit.” Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant, playing a caricature of McClain, wondered this weekend how NASA could create suits for dogs and monkeys, but not a woman.
Spokane native Anne McClain addressed the controversy on Twitter Wednesday – two days before the history-making event was set to commence on Friday with fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch – saying the decision was partly hers. She reiterated the point Monday morning, during a live interview on the TODAY Show.
“I think by now most people know that was actually based on my recommendation,” said McClain. “I think as the lead for the U.S. segment up here on the space station we are always looking for ways to make our team and our job execution the most efficient that we possibly can.”
Flanked by fellow astronauts Nick Hague, to her left, and Koch to her right, McClain said the spacewalk wasn’t necessarily canceled, but was instead shuffled around. She completed her first spacewalk two weeks ago, becoming the 13th woman to do so. She and Hague worked outside, in the vacuum of space, for 6 hours and 39 minutes to upgrade the space station’s power storage capacity.
The female-spacewalk issue arose last week, when McClain and Koch were scheduled to go out together on Friday. NASA officials said McClain trained in both medium and large upper-torso pieces, but during her first spacewalk, she realized the medium fit better. A NASA spokeswoman told media there were two medium pieces on board, however the spares would “require additional time to configure for a spacewalk.”
“I’m going out of the door next week,” McClain told TODAY. “And we’re certainly looking forward to that. We’ve been so busy and focused on this mission it’s actually been a really great time to be out on the space station.”
Koch, meanwhile, made her first trek into space with Hague – not McClain – on Friday as the two continued to install lithium-ion batteries for a pair of the space station’s solar arrays.
“It blew me away,” Koch said. “Floating above the Earth with nothing between you and the Earth 250 miles below you, except for your own personal spacecraft known as your space suit, is a pretty amazing thing to accomplish,” she said. “The space suit is bulky no matter what your size and it provides for a very small work envelope kind of like right in front of you.”
As for the SNL skit, all three astronauts appeared to be in on the joke.
“It was hilarious,” Hauge said. “It had us crying. It was great.”
The roughly three-minute-long sketch came during the Weekend Update segment, the show’s fictional news program. Host Michael Che told Bryant, playing a passive aggressive and sarcastic McClain, that the news had to be disappointing.
“Nope. No. Not at all,” Bryant said. “No, I’m practical, I get it. Only one woman suit so Christina did the spacewalk with my colleague Nick and they swam in the stars and they know what it is to be God looking down on the Earth. And me, me inside the window and it’s all OK.”
Bryant then went on to list McClain’s accomplishments in school earning master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and international relations, and in the the U.S. Army, including her career as a decorated major and combat pilot, “but then the space shirt and pants were the wrong size” and so the “dream gotta die.”
“Quite honestly, it was the laugh we needed up here yesterday,” McClain said.
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