Oct 22, 2019

Why an all-female spacewalk took so long

Miriam Kramer, author of Space

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As NASA aims to make spaceflight more inclusive and equitable, outdated ideas about women and their fitness for certain aspects of spaceflight still persist.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

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