Why an all-female spacewalk took so long
NASA astronaut Christina Koch takes a selfie during a spacewalk. Photo: NASA
As NASA aims to make spaceflight more inclusive and equitable, outdated ideas about women and their fitness for certain aspects of spaceflight still persist.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