NASA astronauts weigh in on the canceled all-female spacewalk

NASA astronauts joined TODAY live from the International Space Station to explain why sizing interfered with plans for the first all-female spacewalk.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Eun Kyung Kim

NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station dismissed claims that the aborted plan for the first all-female spacewalk was anything more than a logistical matter.

Anne McClain was scheduled to take a spacewalk last Friday with fellow astronaut Christina Koch when after returning from an earlier mission, she realized that there would be an issue with spacesuit sizing. That’s when she suggested NASA swap out her spot with the other American astronaut on board, Nick Hague.

"That was actually based on my recommendation," she told TODAY during a live interview Monday with the other NASA astronauts on board the ISS.

"We are always looking at ways to make our team and our job execution the most efficient that we possibly can," McClain said.

Both women needed a medium-size hard upper torso, or the shirt of the spacesuit. But only one on the space station was small enough to fit both women, prompting plans for the first all-female spacewalk to be scrapped.

The cancellation generated buzz around the world, with even former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighing in.

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The controversy soared over the weekend to the heights of "Saturday Night Live," during which Aidy Bryant played McClain in a skit that made fun of the sizing problem. Bryant noted that NASA could configure spacesuits for monkeys and dogs, yet couldn’t come up with enough garb for two women.

Hague said the entire crew has watched the clip, which provided some much-needed levity.

"It was hilarious. It had us crying. It was great," he told TODAY.

Added McClain, "It was the laugh we needed up here yesterday."

Last month, NASA astronaut Anne McClain worked on the ISS during a six-hour, 39-minute spacewalk to upgrade the orbital complex's power storage capacity. Getty Images

Koch went ahead with the mission Friday as planned but with Hague, and the pair installed lithium-ion batteries on the ISS's solar panel.

"It blew me away," she told TODAY. "Floating above the Earth with nothing between you and the Earth 250 miles below you except for your own personal spacecraft known as your spacesuit is a pretty amazing thing to be able to accomplish."

Koch said anyone who has witnessed a spacewalk over the web will see that astronauts are constantly making adjustments to their suits.

"The spacesuit is bulky, no matter what your size, and it provides for a very small work envelope, kind of right in front of you," she said.

"We’re constantly repositioning ourselves so that we can get the job done with the tools and tethers that were right in front of us. It’s very important to have a great fit. And we’re lucky that we can all get out there and kind of push through those challenges."

NASA has said McClain trained in both large- and medium-size suits, but she discovered during her first spacewalk that a medium was the better fit.

In the past, spacewalks have been mostly conducted by male astronauts, with the help of some female crew members. These hourslong operations typically involve making repairs and upgrades to the outside of the space station.

Both women still made history. They became the 13th and 14th women to ever complete a spacewalk.