NASA was set to make history this week with the first all-woman spacewalk. Anne McClain and Christina Koch were scheduled to take part in a spacewalk on Friday, but during mission planning the space station crew ran into a problem: the ISS only has one working spacesuit for that’s appropriately-sized women.
Last week, when McClain went on her first spacewalk, she wore a large spacesuit but reported it was too big and made maneuvering difficult. For her second spacewalk, McClain planned to use a medium suit. But Koch also needs a medium suit, and the space station only has one available.
Technically, the ISS actually does have two medium spacesuits, but only one is prepared for the vacuum of space. A lot of work would need to be done by the crew to get the second one operational by Friday, and NASA decided that it was easier to just replace McClain with male astronaut Nick Hague for this spacewalk.
“When you have the option of just switching the people, the mission becomes more important than a cool milestone,” said a NASA spokesperson to The New York Times.
Of course, it’s a bit embarrassing that it’s taken this long for the first all-woman spacewalk in the first place. NASA has 12 women on their active astronaut roster, yet the agency is either unable or unwilling to put more than one of them in space at a time. The last time there were two women on the ISS was in 2010, and a majority of ISS crews in recent years have zero women at all.
There’s a chance the first all-woman spacewalk could happen on its own—like it almost did this week—but right now it looks like NASA’s failure to readily accommodate its women astronauts of is standing in the way of an important symbolic milestone for women in space. That’s not a good look.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics