Science/Tech

NASA Scraps First All-Female Spacewalk Amid Sexism Accusations

NASA’s recent decision to cancel the highly anticipated first all-female spacewalk has been widely criticized on social media for sexism and gender bias. However, NASA astronaut Anne McClain took the blame for the delayed mission on the International Space Station. 

McClain was supposed to conduct the spacewalk with fellow astronaut Christina Koch on March 29, and this could have made them the first women to go outside the ISS without being accompanied by men. But NASA announced on Monday that the mission will not take place due to lack of appropriately-sized spacesuits at the station. 

Amid the growing public backlash against NASA, McClain clarified that it was her decision to withdraw from the spacewalk. 

"This decision was based on my recommendation," McClain took to Twitter on Tuesday. "Leaders must make tough calls, and I am fortunate to work with a team who trusts my judgement.”

McClain used to train in a medium and a large suit on Earth. However, following her first spacewalk on March 22, she decided that a medium suit only fits her well in space. 

NASA originally assigned her a large suit to give the smaller size to Koch for the next spacewalk. NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz told Space.com that there are currently only one medium and one large suit in usable condition on the ISS. 

“We must never accept a risk that can instead be mitigated,” McClain said. “Safety of the crew and execution of the mission come first."

Astronaut Nick Hague will take McClain's place and accompany Koch, who will use the medium suit, for Friday’s spacewalk. But McClain will still get out of ISS as she takes Hague's assignment for the third spacewalk on April 8.

"Astronauts who do not fit comfortably into available suit sizes can have increased accessibility issues," a report from the NASA Office of Inspector General stated. "For example, temperature is controlled through a rotary dial on the front of the EMU, which means smaller astronauts face visual and mechanical disadvantages that limit their ability to properly control suit temperature." 

All-Female Spacewalk: Not Planned

The world celebrated the news came that the first all-female spacewalk would happen this year. However, NASA officials said the activity was not intentionally planned to be a historic event, Motherboard reported Wednesday.

They clarified that McClain and Koch were picked through a regular selection process.

“It just wasn’t something that jumped out at us because it all starts here with competence and abilities, regardless of being male or female,” Kenny Todd, ISS Mission Operations Integration Manager, said during a recent media briefing. “It’s a great opportunity and a great way to highlight some of the things that are going on here, but these two space walkers are just solid astronauts.”

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