Here is the real reason why NASA had to "cancel" this release in the all-female space


Earlier this month, the world was delighted to learn that NASA had scheduled the first-ever "all-female" spacewalk. Now, a boring equipment problem has disappointed many #WomeninSTEM enthusiasts.

Expedition 59/60 onboard engineers Christina Koch and Anne McClain were going to venture out of the International Space Station (ISS) on March 29 to continue upgrading the batteries. one of the solar panels of the station.

Despite extensive media coverage, the timing of these crew members – including the fact that women would be at key flying controls on Earth too – was a happy coincidence and not a premeditated event (the maintenance work was not even planned before the end of the year).

"It was not orchestrated," said NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz when the news was announced.

But given the fact that female astronauts have undoubtedly been underrepresented in ISS missions and outings in space, of course, everyone is excited.

That said, NASA has explicitly warned us that things could still change regarding this tour.

"Exit missions in space can be adjusted if the flight operations team deems it necessary," wrote Schierholz in the initial press release about the latest space release program.

Now they have, with one astronaut traded for a male colleague because of a size problem of the space suit. On March 26, NASA announced that McClain would be replaced by flight engineer Nick Hague. Together, they began battery enhancement work at a previous spacewalk on March 22nd.

The cancellation of the women's space outing is due to the fact that during this March 22 incursion, McClain discovered that his best fit of a space suit torso was a way, not as big as his already thought the team.

NASA's EVAs are actually considered as "personal spaceships" designed to keep a human being alive in the hostile environment of space. They do not have a masculine or feminine version, but consist of a collection of pieces that combine in a variety of ways – torso, arms, gloves, etc. – in several sizes, to ensure a perfect fit for each astronaut.

For the March 29 release, only one piece of medium-sized torso was ready for use. It will be covered by Koch, according to NASA's announcement of these updates.

Public reaction on social media looks a lot like this: "How come NASA does not have enough costumes for female astronauts !? How did they not see this coming !? What an embarrassment!

Not so fast, though.

It is unfortunate that this historic event can no longer occur due primarily to a shortage of equipment, but the current situation is far more complicated than to claim that NASA does not adequately support the women astronauts because of, for example, implicit sexism. .

In fact, the ISS even has another medium-sized torso on board. But donning a spacesuit and going out of the airlock is not like the simple process that we usually see in sci-fi movies.

Although it only takes 15 minutes, the crew does spend a lot of time checking the outfit and preparing the EVA in the days before.

According to one tweet from SchierholzMcLain was actually trained in both spacesuit sizes and the adequacy problem was only discovered late in the spacewalk. In addition, the job involves a lot more crew than two people coming out of the ISS. NASA has therefore opted for the quickest and easiest solution: replace the astronaut, not the combination.

On top of that, it's not as if NASA did not have enough combinations just for female astronauts. They have hardly enough costumes, period.

In 2017, the agency issued an audit of the currently used combinations on the ISS, highlighting concerns about the age of the equipment, which might not even last until the end of the year. at the planned retirement of the station in 2024.

"Of the remaining 11 full and functional space suits, 4 are kept on the ISS and the remaining 7 are on Earth at various stages of refurbishment and maintenance," said the audit. Yuck.

New combinations are being manufactured, but these operations involve extraordinary costs and time, with budget cuts weighing on the development of substitutes, the Z-Series pressure garment system.

The crew change makes the release in the March 29 space less exciting for the public, but in the end, most spacewalks are just another extremely complicated station maintenance journey. Doing the job properly and safely remains the top priority of everyone involved.

We can only hope that another ISS mission bringing together enough extraordinary female astronauts will soon mark this milestone in the exploration of the human space.

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