WASHINGTON — A spacesuit sizing concern has prompted NASA to reshuffle assignments for a pair of upcoming spacewalks on the Worldwide Area Station, cancelling a first-ever all-woman spacewalk and within the course of turning what had been an unintended public relations coup for the company right into a headache.
NASA introduced March 25 that Anne McClain, who carried out a spacewalk with fellow NASA astronaut Nick Hague March 22, received’t take part in one other spacewalk scheduled for March 29 with Christina Koch. Hague will as a substitute carry out the spacewalk with Koch to interchange batteries which can be a part of the station’s energy system.
The company mentioned it made the change after McClain discovered that she could be extra snug carrying a go well with with a medium-sized arduous higher torso phase, somewhat than the big measurement she wore on the sooner spacewalk. Just one go well with with a medium-sized torso is prepared to be used on the station, and station managers determined to have Koch use that go well with.
There have been no indicators within the earlier spacewalk by McClain that the bigger go well with was an issue. An company spokesperson mentioned March 25 that McClain educated for the spacewalks on the bottom in utilizing medium and huge torso segments, and initially thought that the bigger go well with would work, however concluded after the March 22 spacewalk that the smaller go well with could be extra snug.
Even with in depth coaching on the bottom, getting the best match for a spacesuit in microgravity is usually a problem. “Once they launch on board, we all know fairly effectively what go well with measurement they’re however, in fact, your physique modifications barely in house as a result of fluid shifts or backbone elongation,” mentioned Mary Lawrence, a NASA spacewalk flight director, throughout a March 19 press convention concerning the spacewalks.
A comparatively routine reshuffling of crew assignments generated additional consideration, and scrutiny, due to the historic significance of the deliberate spacewalk. Had the earlier schedule held, a Koch-McClain spacewalk would have been the primary within the historical past of spaceflight that includes solely girls.
“Anne and Christina could have the chance to be the primary all-female EVA, which I believe shall be a proud second for NASA, if the assignments keep as they deliberate,” Lawrence mentioned at that briefing. “In the event that they encourage that subsequent technology of house explorers, they’re actually worthy of that inspiration, and I’m simply actually proud to be part of it.”
Company officers, although, emphasised they didn’t intentionally group up Koch and McClain for that milestone. “There have been plenty of circumstances that bought us right here,” mentioned Kenny Todd, supervisor for ISS operations and integration at NASA, throughout the identical briefing. Amongst these elements had been delays within the spacewalk brought on by modifications in crew assignments and schedules after the aborted Soyuz MS-10 launch final October.
One other issue, he mentioned, was giving spacewalk expertise to as many astronauts as doable. “We’ve bought plenty of younger crew members right here. Likelihood is they’re going to see house once more sooner or later and, as a lot as we will, we’d prefer to make them veteran spacewalkers.”
Todd mentioned that the historic significance didn’t instantly daybreak on him or others planning the spacewalk. “It simply wasn’t one thing that jumped out at us,” he mentioned.
Whereas NASA didn’t intentionally plan an all-woman spacewalk, it loved the additional consideration paid to it. That focus, although, created a backlash in social media when NASA introduced the reassignment, with some folks accusing the company of sexism for not having sufficient medium-sized fits on the station or not being keen to delay the spacewalk till an answer could possibly be discovered to permit Koch and McClain to carry out an EVA collectively.
NASA later famous that there’s a second medium-sized spacesuit torso on the station, however it’s not presently configured for a spacewalk. An company spokesperson mentioned it’s simpler to vary the spacewalk crew assignments and preserve to the present schedule than to reconfigure the spacesuits and delay the EVAs.
Delaying the spacewalk would pose different schedule challenges as effectively. Todd famous on the earlier briefing that April shall be a busy month on the station with three cargo automobiles slated to reach there. A Russian Progress cargo spacecraft is scheduled to launch to the station April 4, adopted by a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft April 17. A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft will observe in late April.
McClain, whereas not taking part on this EVA, will participate in one other spacewalk. NASA introduced March 25 that she and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will carry out the third and final within the present sequence of spacewalks on April 8.