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NASA has put 12 men on the moon, but apparently it just can’t make enough spacesuits for two women to walk in space at the same time.
On Monday night, the space agency announced that the first all-female spacewalk would be cancelled. Astronauts Anna McClain and Christina Koch had been scheduled to do work on the International Space Station together on Friday — one of the last days of March, also known as Women’s History Month — but during a spacewalk last week, McClain realized that she needed to wear a smaller spacesuit than she’d originally thought.
“McClain learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso — essentially the shirt of the spacesuit — fits her best,” NASA wrote in a press release. “Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it.”
McClain is still scheduled to go into space again, in early April. But both women will now share their spacewalks with men.
“We believe an all-female spacewalk is inevitable,” NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz told the Washington Post in an email. But, she explained, “It is more efficient to swap spacewalkers than to reconfigure the elements of the space suit.”
Women have long struggled to fit into NASA’s spacesuits. Budget shortfalls have previously left NASA with only medium, large, and extra-large sizes. (Originally, the agency decided to stop carrying both small and extra-large spacesuits, but it later brought back the extra-large sizes.) In 2003, one-third of the female astronauts couldn’t safely fit into those sizes; in zero-gravity, they’d float in the suit.
While NASA first started flying astronauts in space in 1961, it wasn’t until 1983 that it sent an American woman, Sally Ride. As of last week, McClain was the 13th woman to ever walk in space, while Koch will become the 14th.
Cover image: NASA astronaut Christina Koch (center) assists space walkers Nick Hague (left) and Anne McClain in their U.S. spacesuits shortly before they begin the first spacewalk of their careers. Hague and McClain would work outside in the vacuum of space for six hours and 39 minutes to upgrade the International Space Station's power storage capacity.