Having an all-women team conduct a spacewalk will now have to wait as the US space agency NASA Monday cancelled a spacewalk by two women due to lack of appropriate spacesuits that would fit them.
Christina Koch, who was scheduled to walk outside the International Space Station (ISS) with Ann McClain on March 29 as a member of Expedition 59, on a mission to replace batteries installed last summer, will now do the tasks with fellow American Nick Hague. Had Koch and McClain went on spacewalk together, it would have been the first ever by two women astronauts.
McClain, while working outside the station last week, realised that a “medium”-sized upper half of her spacesuit fit her better. “Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it,” the news agency AFP has quoted NASA as saying.
The spacesuits aboard the ISS are assemblies of parts put together according to the requirements of each astronaut’s body, explained Brandi Dean, spokeswoman of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, adding that two upper parts in each of the three available spacesuit sizes —medium, large and extra large— are currently held at the ISS.
“We do our best to anticipate the spacesuit sizes that each astronaut will need, based on the spacesuit size they wore in training on the ground, and in some cases, astronauts train in multiple sizes,” she said while explaining the problem that hampered historic spacewalk planned for Friday.
She also said the individuals’ sizing needs may, however, change once they are on orbit. This takes place in response to the changes in a body brought about by microgravity. “In addition, 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 explained.
Until now, male-only or mixed male-female teams had conducted spacewalk since the space station was assembled in 1998 — 214 spacewalks until now. In the nearly 60 years of human spaceflight, there have only been four times when expeditions included two female members trained for spacewalks. McClain and Koch were part of the 2013 NASA class that was 50 per cent women.
(With inputs from AFP and Reuters)