Why an all-female spacewalk took so long
As NASA aims to make spaceflight more inclusive and equitable, outdated ideas about women and their fitness for certain aspects of spaceflight still persist.
Driving the news: During a press briefing ahead of the historic all-female spacewalk on Friday, NASA's acting associate administrator for human exploration Ken Bowersox suggested that it took this long for two women to go on a spacewalk together in part because women's bodies aren't as fit for spacewalking as men's.
- "It's a little bit like playing in the NBA," Bowersox, a former astronaut said. "I'm too short to play in the NBA, and sometimes physical characteristics make a difference in certain activities, and spacewalks are one of those areas where just how your body is built in shape, it makes a difference in how well you can work the suit."
But, but, but: The spacesuits used on these spacewalks weren't made with women in mind.
- "The technology for our spacesuits that we're still wearing today was actually developed in the '70s, and the astronaut population did look a little bit different back then," NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, one of the two women who went on the spacewalk Friday, said during a Monday press briefing.
- Historically, women have been underrepresented in NASA's Astronaut Corps, making it even less likely the two would have been assigned to the same spacewalk at all.
Between the lines: While the spacewalking milestone was celebrated by NASA as a big moment for women in space, the agency has yet to reach gender parity.
- According to a NASA survey, about 34% of the space agency's workforce is female.
What's next: The space agency aims to send the first woman to the Moon in 2024 as part of its Artemis program.
- Last week, NASA revealed a new spacesuit designed for microgravity and on planetary surfaces like the Moon.
- The space agency stressed that the xEMU suit is designed to fit women as well as men.
Go deeper, via The Verge: Why spacesuit design choices delayed the first all-female spacewalk