©2019 Kari Carlisle
Last week was to be the first all-female spacewalk in history. Women have been spacewalking for 34 years, but never without a man. Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were scheduled for the history-making spacewalk when McClain decided a medium sized spacesuit fit better than a large. The problem: Koch can only wear a medium suit, and there is only one medium suit on the International Space Station (ISS).
People around the world were disappointed. I was disappointed. Social media exploded with criticism. Saturday Night Live made fun of the situation. Despite the backlash, NASA’s decision had nothing to do with gender. The change was made with safety in mind.
If you wear a shirt to work that’s a tad too large, you might be a little uncomfortable, maybe somewhat self-conscious, but you’re not going to die. That’s because you don’t work in the vacuum of space.
Spacesuits are not tailored to fit individuals. There are hundreds of astronauts and a limited number of suits available on the ISS that must be shared. When McClain realized she was safer in a medium suit, NASA made the right call.
It’s not a matter of taking a suit back to the sewing machine or whipping up a new one. They cost about $2 million each, and it takes about 2 and a half years to make one. If you’re not happy about the number of available suits, blame budget cuts, not misogyny.
While it is a shame that we won’t see an all-female spacewalk for a while, the greater shame is that there was little to no fanfare when women finally made up 50% of astronauts within the last few years. In 99 years, we’ve come from gaining the right to vote alongside men to going to space alongside men. I don’t feel as strongly about all-female spacewalks, as cool and historic as that would be, so much as earning equal pay for equal work for women and minorities. In that regard, we still have a long way to go.