NASA officials have confirmed that plans for the first all-female spacewalk have been abandoned. Despite the disappointing circumstances, the March 29 spacewalk will proceed with NASA astronaut Anne McClain being replaced by another member of the Expedition 59 crew.
Earlier this month, NASA officials announced that astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch would perform the first all-female spacewalk as part of the International Space Station Expedition 59 crew. However, following the first spacewalk of Expedition 59 on March 22, McClain noted that a medium-size hard upper torso fits her best. This is an issue as Koch also prefers the medium hard upper torso and only one is currently ready for extravehicular activities.
The hard upper torso of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EVU) is a fibreglass shell that essentially acts as the “shirt” of the suit. The fit of the hard upper torso is important in order to ensure the astronaut wearing it can operate dials on the front of the suit. If its too big, operating dials that control things like the suit’s temperature become impossible.
A brief history of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EVU)
The EVUs were designed in the 1970s by Hamilton United and ILC Dover and were first used during STS-5 in November 1982. A total of 18 EVUs were built with each unit costing several million dollars. Despite the units having an original shelf life of 15 years, 11 of the original 18 remain in use with four currently being used on the ISS.
Over their near 40-year service, the EVU suits have suffered 17 “significant” failures. Although none have been fatal, at least five had the potential of taking the life of an astronaut. As a result, plans have been created to replace the current EVUs with a next-generation update. However, the endeavour has yet to receive sufficient funding and the project has remained mostly shelved for several years.