Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain works on the International Space Station's Port-4 truss structure during a six-hour, 39-minute spacewalk to upgrade the orbital complex's power storage capacity on March 22, 2019.
NASA
Girls & Women

NASA Abandons First All-Female Spacewalk Due to Lack of Suits for Women


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Women and girls, often discouraged by gender stereotypes, remain underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. Despite the cancellation of the first all-female spacewalk, trailblazing astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch are showing that a woman’s place is anywhere she wants — including space. You can take action here to empower women and girls everywhere to achieve their dreams.

Just weeks after confirming its first all-female spacewalk, NASA is aborting its mission.

The agency announced Monday that one-half of the two-woman crew will have to back out of the mission due to a lack of appropriate “spacesuit availability,” NPR reports.

The historic spacewalk, originally scheduled for Friday, was to be staffed by astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch, and guided flight controller Kristen Facciol. But, after performing her first spacewalk from the International Space Station (ISS) last week in a large-sized spacesuit, McClain realized she needed a medium-sized suit.

Take Action: Sign this petition to #LeveltheLaw and empower girls and women around the world!

Unfortunately, the ISS has just two medium suits on board, only one of which is space-ready. And, as the suits require extensive preparation to be exposed to space, NASA opted to swap McClain out, NPR reports.

“Anne trained in ‘M’ and ‘L’ and thought she could use a large but decided after [last] Friday’s spacewalk a medium fits better,” Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokeswoman, tweeted in response to criticism of the change on Monday.

“In this case, it’s easier (and faster!) to change space-walkers than reconfigure the spacesuit,” she added.

Despite training in both these sizes, “no one training environment can fully simulate performing a spacewalk in microgravity,” so an astronaut might discover their suit does not allow them to move optimally once out in space, Schierholz explained to the Washington Post in an email.

McClain became the 13th woman to complete a spacewalk last week, and Koch will become the 14th this week, the Guardian reports.

Read More: The First Person on Mars Will 'Likely' Be a Woman, NASA Head Says

This isn’t the first time NASA has had issues with its suit sizes. According to NPR, after redesigning its suits due to a technical glitch in the 1990s, the agency cut its smallest suit size. It now only has medium, large, and extra-large suits, which poses a problem for many female astronauts. About one-third of NASA’s female astronauts could not fit into its existing suits in 2003, NPR reported.

Koch and McClain were scheduled to install batteries on the ISS’ solar arrays, but McClain will now trade places with fellow astronaut Nick Hague and the spacewalk will continue as planned. McClain’s next walk is scheduled for April 8, though no new all-female walk has been scheduled. 

While this wasn’t the “one small step” for women many had hoped it would be, Schierholz told the Washington Post that NASA believes “an all-female spacewalk is inevitable."