Th International Space Station set to strike a blow against gender parity – 20 years and 214 spacewalks after the first men stepped off the ISS into space.
NASA astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were scheduled to do the first all-women spacewalk when it was first announced in March. The reason the spacewalk did not take place was attributed to the fact that the only spacesuit available for McClain was a large, while she wears a medium.
According to the New Scientist, the history of space travel is full of such incidents. In an industry predominantly designed by and tested for men, it has always struggled to understand and accommodate the needs of women who work within it.
Of those who have bene sent into space by NASA, only 11 percent have been women.
During space travel’s earlier years, one group of researchers said women were advised not to operate any complicated machines while on their period. When the US’s first female astronaut Sally Ride was going on a seven-day stay in space, she was bizarrely offered 100 tampons along with a make-up bag.
In addition there have been more serious concerns such as space radiation shields and space suits that often struggle to fit the female body.
An ill-fitting space suit is one reason why diversifying astronaut crews is necessary. Major space agencies need to be able to understand how female bodies work in space, especially if the dreams of billionaires like Elon Musk are to be realised and humans will eventually live on other planets.
National Geographic in a recent article about why women need to be sent to space pointed out four factors which make them the gender more suited to space travel. These include being smaller, suffering less with the physical effects of spaceflight, and having some personality traits more innately suited for long-duration missions.
This is not to say that agencies aren’t noting this issue and trying to make a change. More are accepting of women into their training programs, and are learning from the experiences of those who have already been to space to improve female missions in the future.
The first all-female spacewalk is back on and expected to happen before the end of October.