In mid-March 2019, astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were readying themselves to make space history. Later that month, the pair were scheduled to conduct the first ever all-female spacewalk, when they stepped outside the International Space Station to install new batteries on the craft’s solar arrays.
But McClain never made it outside the ISS for her landmark spacewalk. Instead, her place was taken by fellow Nasa astronaut Nick Hague, after it became apparent that there wasn’t a spacesuit in her preferred size that could be made ready in time for the spacewalk.
The suits, which were built in 1978 and have not been updated since, were made at a time when most astronauts were men. The smallest sizes were discontinued in the 1990s, and medium is now the smallest option, of which there is only one suit flight-ready on the space station. McClain had practiced in a large suit and thought that would be okay, until she got into space and realised a medium would fit better. Had more women been involved from the start, the smaller spacesuits may well have been available.
Female astronauts, it seems, have never been high on Nasa’s list of priorities. But now the space agency seems eager to make up for past wrongs. Last week, Nasa announced plans to put the first woman on the Moon by 2024, and secured an extra $1.6 billion (£1.26bn) to help complete the task.
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