NASA has scrapped plans for the first all-female spacewalk because of a problem many women are all too familiar with: finding something that fits.
Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were scheduled Friday to install lithium-ion batteries on the International Space Station’s solar panel. But McClain’s spot will be swapped out with a male astronaut, because there aren’t enough spacesuits small enough to fit both women available, a discovery that was made when McClain did her first spacewalk last week.
“McClain learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso — essentially the shirt of the spacesuit — fits her best. Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it,” NASA said in a news release.
The agency also tweeted the news with a photo featuring both women.
“Spacewalks are a challenge, but the right equipment makes the job easier! Spacesuits are the most important gear. To get the best fit, we've updated the assignments for our March 29 and April 8 spacewalks outside the @Space_Station,” it said.
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.
McClain’s spacewalk last week made her the 13th woman to take one; Koch will be the 14th when she takes on the mission Friday.
“When you have the option of just switching the people, the mission becomes more important than a cool milestone,” NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz told the New York Times in an interview.
Schierholz said there are two medium-size upper torsos available to the crew. McClain originally thought she could work in a larger size, but after her spacewalk last week, she wore the medium-size one, which Koch also wears, and learned it fit better.
The other medium-size torso has yet to be configured for a spacewalk and would not be ready in time for Friday's mission.
There were no concrete plans for an all-female spacewalk after NASA altered Friday's mission, but Schierholz said one is increasingly likely because agency astronauts have been diversifying in terms of gender.
“We’re sort of getting to the point of inevitability,” Schierholz said.
McClain and Koch were both chosen from NASA’s 2013 astronaut candidate class, which had the second-highest number of applicants the space agency has ever received. Of the eight candidates selected in 2013, half of them were women, representing a mix of scientists and military pilots.