Dmitri Lovetsky / AP
This is not a small step for women.
The story was to be made on Friday when, for the first time in its history, two female astronauts had to make an exit into space outside the International Space Station. However, one of the astronauts was replaced this week for lack of "space suit availability".
Last week, NASA's astronaut Anne McClain wore a large spacesuit for her first spacewalk. In particular, she participated in the exchange of aging batteries that store the energy collected by the station's solar panels. While she was working, she realized that her outfit was too big to be maneuvered comfortably. Instead of the big one, she would need a medium-sized hard chest – what NASA calls "the shirt of the spacesuit".
There were two supports on the ISS, but only one was prepared for an exit into space. Instead of spending a lot of time on the crew to make the extra-medium combination worthy of space by Friday, NASA has decided to change staff: Astronaut Nick Hague will travel to McClain's place and accompany astronaut Christina Koch.
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– Anne McClain (@AstroAnnimal) March 25, 2019
"When you have the opportunity to change personnel, the mission becomes more important than a cool milestone," NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz told the New York Times.
Preparing a space suit for a vacuum exposure of space is not an easy task. Last week, McClain released a video that it does a "loop wash" on a combination, necessary for the cooling system to continue to function properly. According to Space.com, astronauts also perform several adjustment checks as they prepare for space walks, as astronauts grow up in the microgravity of space. In fact, McClain m said on Twitter earlier this month, she had already grown to 2 inches in the few months she was on the ISS.
NASA did not really intend to make history; It was not until after the two female astronauts were programmed together that they realized that it would be the first outing in the entirely female space. "It's really the luck of the draw," Schierholz told Space.com.
McClain, 39, spoke to NPR last month about her feelings about realizing her dreams. "I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to describe it," she said. "When you are finally in space and you finally look at the Earth and realize that for the first time in your life, nothing is interposed between you and your dream, it is so difficult to describe its profound impact, "she said. .
McClain added, "Every day is a good day when you float, all your life is spent walking around the Earth, then suddenly you can fly as you dreamed."
McClain and Koch were both NASA astronaut candidates in 2013, during which eight potential astronauts were selected from more than 6,100 applicants. The class was divided equally between women and men.
The availability of sufficient space suit sizes has long been a sensitive topic for NASA. As NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce pointed out in 2006, the opportunities for women may have been hampered by the fact that space suits were only available in medium, large and very large sizes. They used to come in small, but this size was reduced in the 1990s when NASA had to rethink the costumes because of a technical problem.
Astronaut Mike Fincke told Greenfieldboy that the little ones could not make an exit into space. And when the agency looked into the issue in 2003, she realized that about one-third of her female astronauts could not fit into existing combinations. But Lara Kearney, who worked on the little suit, said it was not a question of sex, but rather of logistics and cost-effectiveness. "Are we spending about $ 15 million to accommodate, in relative terms, a few more people than we could today? Or are we taking this money and are we going to develop the combination for the next generation?
NASA is not planning an all-female spacewalk yet, but since 12 of the agency's 38 active astronauts are women, Schierholz told Time she thinks it's only a matter of time. "We are reaching the point of inevitability."