Nasa’s first all-female spacewalk scrapped over spacesuit sizes

Nasa astronauts Christina Koch (left) and Anne McClain at the International Space Station. Photo: 22 March 2019Image copyright NASA
Image caption Christina Koch (left) will on Friday wear the spacesuit used by Anne McClain (right) during her last week’s spacewalk

A planned first all-female spacewalk has been cancelled because of spacesuit issues, US space agency Nasa says.

Anne McClain and Christina Koch had been scheduled to install lithium-ion batteries at the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday.

But Nasa says there is only one ready medium-size hard upper torso spacesuit that fits best each of the two women.

Ms Koch will now conduct Friday’s spacewalk with her male colleague Nick Hague, the space agency says.

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

Ms McClain, who had trained in both medium- and large-size spacesuits, realised after a spacewalk last Friday that the medium-size actually suited her best.

Nasa has two medium-size hard upper torsos – considered the “shirt of the spacesuit” – at the ISS but one of the spacesuits has yet to be properly configured for a spacewalk.

This would have taken hours to fix in time for Friday’s scheduled spacewalk. Therefore Nasa decided it would be easier and safer to switch the astronauts.

The spacesuits available at the ISS are in fact assemblies of several parts put together as best adapted to each astronaut’s body, Brandi Dean, spokeswoman of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

She added that sizes were medium, large and extra large.

“We do our best to anticipate the spacesuit sizes that each astronaut will need, based on the spacesuit size they wore in training on the ground, and in some cases astronauts train in multiple sizes,” Ms Dean said.

“However, individuals’ sizing needs may change when they are on orbit, in response to the changes living in microgravity can bring about in a body,” she added.

So far only male or mixed male-female teams have conducted spacewalks.

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