October 21 will be a historic day for NASA, space exploration efforts, and women’s equality–Christina Koch and Anne McClain will become the first astronauts to conduct an all-female spacewalk.
The rescheduled mission will occur over seven months after NASA canceled the original due to a lack of properly fitting spacesuits for both women, sparking global outrage.
“NASA just canceled the first all-female spacewalk because it won’t have enough suits that fit women astronauts ready in time. I guess sexism really can transcend the Earthly plane,” read one tweet from Erin Blakemore. Another Twitter user stated, “NASA has the technology to send people to the moon but here on Earth, we don’t have the ability to make suits to fit women? Can’t someone figure this out?”
NASA claims the cancellation of the initial mission was due to safety concerns; only one medium-size hard upper torso, the shirt of the spacesuit, could be prepared in time for the spacewalk. On one practice mission, Koch (who was trained in a large hard upper torso) determined the medium-size hard torso was a better fit, and the administration did not have two medium-size torsos available at the time. Instead of delaying the mission, NASA switched out the astronauts and Koch’s spacewalk was pushed back. While this saved time and crew labor, it robbed women in NASA a large step towards gender equality.
While the internet was critical of NASA following the mission’s cancellation, the astronauts stood by the decision. “This decision was based on my recommendation,” astronaut McClain stated. “Leaders must make tough calls, and I am fortunate to work with a team who trusts my judgement. We must never accept a risk that can instead be mitigated. Safety of the crew and execution of the mission come first.”
Luckily, there will still be an all-female spacewalk. This month, Koch will depart the International Space Station with fellow female astronaut Jessica Meir. The two will remain in orbit until February of next year, giving researchers a valuable opportunity to observe the effects of space travel on women’s bodies.
“I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing,” Koch stated. “In the past, women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted.”