It was not planned as a historic mission, but it would have been a decisive moment: the first outing in the all-female space.
But this moment will have to wait, declared Monday NASA, because of a rather fundamental problem: the size of the space suit.
The two astronauts who had to walk together in space on Friday, Anne C. McClain and Christina H. Koch, should wear a medium-sized torso. But only one is readily available at the International Space Station.
The mission itself is unchanged. On Friday, two astronauts will venture outside the space station for a six-hour mission to install huge lithium-ion batteries, which will help fuel the research lab. Ms. Koch must always be involved, along with fellow astronaut Nick Hague; Ms. McClain made her first space trip last week.
But the first adventure for women outside the space station's boundaries will have to take place another day. "After consulting McClain and Hague after the first spacewalk, the mission officials decided to adjust the tasks, in part because of the availability of the space suit on the station," NASA said. declaration.
Stephanie Schierholz, a spokeswoman for NASA, said in an interview Monday that "there were already two upper-middle torsos -" essentially the space-clothing shirt, "according to NASA, at the space station.
But there were some problems. One of them was that Ms. McClain had thought she could work with a large torso, but after her release in space last Friday, she was wearing a medium-sized torso and had learned that it suited him better. Ms. Koch also uses the same size.
And of the two medium-sized torsos available, one has not yet been properly configured for an exit in space. It would take hours of crew work, not to mention additional risks, to deal with this problem in time for Friday. Instead, NASA decided to simply dismiss the astronauts.
In the end, the two women will have made an outing in the space – but not together.
"When you have the opportunity to simply change staff, the mission becomes more important than a cool milestone," Ms. Schierholz said.
On Friday, Ms. Koch and Mr. Hague will be assisted by a field team that includes a number of women in key positions including Flight Operations Director Mary Lawrence and her chief officer Jackie Kagey.
At a briefing at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston this month, Ms. Lawrence, Ms. Kagey and Kenneth Todd, head of the station's operations integration, said that the responsible n & # 39; s # They had not yet recognized the importance of the original range of "extravehicular activity" on Friday. EVA.
It was only when they discussed the agenda at a meeting that they realized it was the first time they planned an outing to the all-female space.
After Monday's postponement, Schierholz said there was no concrete plan for an all-female spacewalk, but that NASA astronauts are increasingly likely to have diversified in of gender.
"We are reaching the point of inevitability," Schierholz said of an all-female EVA.
McClain and Koch were part of the 2013 class of astronauts and the eight people in this class – chosen from more than 6,000 candidates – half of whom were women, a first for NASA. The agency lists 38 active astronauts on its website, including 12 women.
The current list of six astronauts at the space station – three Americans, one Canadian and two Russian – allows the team to carry out a number of important projects by ensuring that each crew member accumulates significant experience, Todd said. NASA officials hope the relatively young US astronauts will continue to travel in space in the coming years and help new recruits in the future.
The batteries installed on this mission store the solar energy that the station needs when it is not exposed to the sun. Work on battery systems will continue over the next few years as international teams bring more lithium-ion batteries to the station, more than 200 km from Earth.
Missions require careful planning and robots do as much work as possible before astronauts run the risk of venturing into space. During the busy days leading up to an exit into space, the crew helps prepare and adjust the combinations of their colleagues, who serve as a mini-spaceship once out of the open.
Ms. Koch shared photos of her colleagues on Twitter while they were preparing for the release in space last Friday.
"No regular battery exchange or daily routine," she wrote.