NASA said its first all-female spacewalk is canceled, at least for now.
Spokane native Anne McClain was expected to participate in the history-making event on Friday with fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch, but the space agency said Monday crew members had been reassigned, in part because of spacesuit availability on the International Space Station.
McClain completed her first spacewalk Friday, becoming the 13th woman to do so. She and NASA astronaut Nick Hague worked outside, in the vacuum of space, for 6 hours and 39 minutes to upgrade the space station’s power storage capacity.
Koch is now scheduled to conduct Friday’s spacewalk with Hague. NASA said they will continue working to install lithium-ion batteries for a pair of the space station’s solar arrays.
McClain is tentatively scheduled to join astronaut David Saint-Jacques, of the Canadian Space Agency, for her second spacewalk on April 8.
The reshuffling had to do with the hard upper-torso piece of McClain’s spacesuit. NASA officials said she trained in both medium and large torso pieces, but during her first spacewalk, she realized the medium fit better.
Only one medium torso piece will be ready by Friday, and Koch will wear it, the agency said.
Brandi Dean, a spokeswoman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, told Politico there are six hard torsos aboard the ISS – two medium, two large and two extra large – but one medium and one extra large are spares that would “require additional time to configure for a spacewalk.”
The suits that astronauts wear during spacewalks, known as Extravehicular Mobility Units, “were developed more than 40 years ago and have far outlasted their original 15-year design life,” according to a 2017 report by NASA’s inspector general, which found the aging suits would make it a challenge to continue to support operations on the ISS.
News that the first all-female spacewalk was delayed gained widespread attention Tuesday.
“I’m suuper (sic) disappointed about the all-woman spacewalk not happening as scheduled this Friday but I’m also super supportive of astronauts having the authority to say ‘I would be safer using a different piece of equipment,’ ” Emily Lakdawalla, of the nonprofit Planetary Society, wrote on Twitter. “An all-woman spacewalk WILL eventually happen.”
Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighed in, too, tweeting: “Make another suit.”
McClain graduated from Gonzaga Prep in 1997 and spent a year in the ROTC program at Gonzaga University before attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She later earned master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and international relations. A decorated Army major and combat pilot, she is serving as a flight engineer for NASA Expeditions 58 and 59.
Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to perform a spacewalk in 1984. The Guardian reported more than 500 people have been into space, but only 11 percent have been women. Koch and McClain, however, were part of NASA’s 2013 class of astronaut trainees, which was 50 percent female.
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