Four days before it was scheduled to take place, this update on NASA's all-women space walk removes a core aspect of the seminal event: the fact that it was going to be all-women. The latest update from NASA reveals that the space walk on Friday will now be conducted by astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, rather than Koch and astronaut Anne McClain, per The Verge. The reason for the change of plans has to do with safety procedures — but still, it's likely that many fans will be disappointed at the loss of the all-women space walk.
The press release from NASA was published on March 25 and reads in part,
Koch had been scheduled to conduct this spacewalk with astronaut McClain, in what would have been the first all-female spacewalk. However, after consulting with McClain and Hague following the first spacewalk, mission managers decided to adjust the assignments, due in part to spacesuit availability on the station. McClain learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit – fits her best. Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it.
None of the astronauts involved in the space walks (there are technically three: one which has already taken place, one on Friday, and one scheduled for April) have made public statements about the change of plans. However, Hague, McClain, and Koch have all posted updates about their time up in space onto social media in the last few days.
For those who are feeling extra sad for McClain, who was replaced by Hague for the space walk on Friday, you can be reassured by this: McClain did perform her own space walk with Hague on March 22, during the first of the three walks (as can be seen in the photo shared by McClain below). Per the NASA press release, each space walk takes around six and a half hours.
Stephanie Schierholz, a spokeswoman for NASA, said on Monday that the reasoning behind the switch was largely due to safety precautions, and logistics: it would have been more difficult, more risky, and more costly in terms of time for NASA to make a new spacesuit, rather than just sub in Hague. Via The New York Times, she said, “When you have the option of just switching the people, the mission becomes more important than a cool milestone."
Though it's certainly disappointing for many that the first-ever all-women space walk will not be taking place this month, as was originally planned, there is a silver lining. In her interview on Monday, Schierholz said that while an all-woman space walk wasn't being actively planned, it was likely going to take place in the near future. Specifically, she said, via The Times, that an all-women space walk was becoming increasingly likely just by way of how many women astronauts are joining NASA these days.
She concluded, “We’re sort of getting to the point of inevitability."
Live coverage of the March 29 spacewalk will take begin at 6:30 EST, per the press release.