One Small Step for Man Isn’t a Leap for Women

NASA decided to delay the first all-female spacewalk in history because of spacesuit sizing issues. Astronauts Anne McCain (second in row) and Christina Koch (last in row) were previously set to make history with the spacewalk. (Photo used by permission of Wikimedia Commons)

As many people have already heard, the first female space walk was postponed by NASA. All because there weren’t enough spacesuits on the International Space Station (ISS) that fit the two women participating in the walk.

NASA astronauts Anne McClain, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, and Christina Koch, an NC State graduate, planned to do the first all-female spacewalk in history on March 29, 2019. Beyond just making history, the walk’s main purpose was to install three lithium-ion batteries and their adapter plates to the ISS in a continuation of battery upgrades.

Unfortunately, astronaut Nick Hague took the place of Anne McClain. NASA announced the crew change on March 25. Hague took the place of McClain because the hard upper torso of a spacesuit wasn’t ready in time.

McClain had trained in multiple sizes while still on Earth, and arranged to wear a large upper torso piece for her all-female spacewalk. However, after her first spacewalk on the ISS she decided a medium upper torso fit best, due to body changes that predictably occur when in space.

The ISS does have two medium hard upper torsos in space, but one of the mediums is a spare that would require additional time for configuration.

“Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it,” said NASA in a statement about the crew changes.

NASA’s statement gave way to a dramatic day in the Twitterverse, with many prominent people voicing their opinions on what was largely regarded as sexism. Hillary Clinton even tweeted out “Make another suit.” in response to the controversy.

The Twitterverse, however, does not reflect the feelings of some Leesville students. Some students didn’t even know that the first all-female spacewalk was going to happen. “I don’t really have much of an idea of what’s going on,” said Elijah Gray, freshman.

“I mean, I don’t know if it was an accident [that they didn’t have the right suits],” said Gray. He doesn’t want to believe that NASA would intentionally hurt equality, but he also doesn’t rule out that it could.

However, another Leesville student, sophomore Maya Dominguez-Leach, was looking forward to the spacewalk and thinks it is a step backwards for equality.

“Personally, I think that it is kind of a giant setback,” said Dominguez-Leach. “Almost all spacewalks have been entirely male, or there’s at least been a heavy lean towards males.”  

She also thinks that a female spacewalk would be good for the next generation of women in S.T.E.M. careers. “I think it’d be really, really good for young girls to see an entirely female group of people go up to space, especially if they are extremely into science like I am,” said Dominguez-Leach.

She highlighted the lack of females in space when she was young that discouraged her from pursuing an astronomy career. “The only reason I didn’t really develop a huge love for space was because there weren’t very many girls. I didn’t have a lot of people to look up to.”

Dominguez-Leach believes that in the age of advancing technology “it’d be really good for young girls to see that they have options in science”. She states that often times, people think of nurses or doctors when they hear the phrase ‘women in science’, not astronauts. According to statistics, she’s not wrong. Since 1961, almost 550 people from around the world have been sent to space, but less than 11% have been women.

It is worth noting that NASA has only postponed the spacewalk and hasn’t mentioned it being cancelled, despite what news headlines may say.  “I think it’s just inevitable that there will be an all-female spacewalk. It just [wasn’t] Friday,” Stephanie Schierholz, from NASA’s public affairs office, told CNN.

A future all female spacewalk is definitely not out of the question, but as of right now its not looking like that walk will be occurring anytime soon. As of now, McClain is scheduled to perform her next spacewalk– yet another one to do upgrades– on Monday, April 8 with Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques.

While the first female spacewalk might not have happened like planned, both women made a spacewalk: a feat in and of itself. During the first spacewalk of the series, on March 22, McClain became the 13th woman to perform a spacewalk. Koch became the 14th on March 29.


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