Spacewalk Controversy: All-Woman Walk Will Have To Come Later


Maximilian Looft, Author

For NASA’s 215th spacewalk aboard the International Space Station, controversy has been an unfortunate wet blanket for the important event. Few people have been paying attention to the science and have focused instead on astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch.

McClain and Koch were going to replace six nickel-hydrogen batteries that power the station’s solar arrays with three lithium-ion batteries, giving the arrays more efficient power capacity.

The astronauts were scheduled to perform the spacewalk together on March 29, which would have been the first all-woman spacewalk, but they encountered difficulty when McClain found that the suit tailored for her no longer fit correctly, as she had grown two inches during her time in space.

McClain discovered this on her previous spacewalk, a week earlier. She could have configured a spare suit to prepare for the spacewalk, but with an estimated configure time of 12 hours, she decided not to risk delaying the walk and opted for astronaut Nick Hague to take her place.

This led to plenty of news sources covering the topic and many uninformed people asserting that NASA should have just made another suit.

But there were enough suits on the ISS — it was McClain’s call to not delay the walk or any other experiments onboard the space station. According to NASA, “12 hours might not seem like a long time, but the space station is on a very busy operational schedule.”

Even if there were no spare suits and NASA did want to send a new suit, it would have been the end of April before the next SpaceX CRS mission to the ISS, which would have delayed the lithium-ion battery replacement by an entire month.

On April 8, McClain and astronaut David Saint-Jacques performed a successful spacewalk to install more power lines to Canadarm2, which is a robotic arm outside of the station. During their six hours and 29 minutes outside of the ISS, they completed several repairs and upgrade tasks on the space station.

It is a disappointment for many that the first all-woman spacewalk was delayed, but mission takes priority. The first all-woman spacewalk is bound to happen eventually as the field becomes more accessible to both genders.