After NASA’s cancellation of their first ever all-female spacewalk on March the 29th due to a problem with the size of the spacesuits, they have recently unveiled a prototype of The Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU).
This is a new and improved suit that NASA Headquarters Administrator Jim Bridenstine reported “will fit all of our astronauts when we go to the moon”.
Two women, Christina Koch and Anne McClain, were set to complete the first all-female spacewalk together, but McClain, in the first of the series of spacewalks from the International Space Station, realised that a medium-size upper torso, effectively the ‘shirt’ of the spacesuit, fit her best.
She had trained in both medium and large, but for safety purposes, she and others at NASA were in agreement that they should make the adjustments.
Unfortunately, the ISS only had one medium onboard, and the arrival of a replacement wouldn’t make it in time, so Koch took priority and McClain was swapped out for fellow astronaut Nick Hague, who had conducted the first spacewalk with her.
This unveiling on the 15th was no surprise, the backlash to the cancelled spacewalk was widespread, and to many was a sign of NASA and space travel’s lack of progress. Even Hillary Clinton chipped in on twitter, tweeting simply, ‘Make another suit.’
In August, The National Space Council came together to address some of these concerns about the diversity of NASA and space flights.
Headed by Saralyn Mark, a business leader in women’s health and science solutions – who spoke on the importance of the inclusivity of NASA’s next big venture, as she believes its success will affect interest in STEM in a wider scale, as it happened for the Apollo mission.
“I want to believe that the next boots on the lunar surface will be worn by a woman and not only will they fit her, but they will also inspire the next generation of explorers.”Saralyn Mark
The unveiling didn’t stop at one prototype. The Moon mission in 2024, or ‘Artemis’, was described as a “proving ground” by Bridenstine “in order to go to Mars”, and a second suit was unveiled the following day.
The Orion Crew Survival System (OCSS) will be worn in the Orion capsule and is for high risk ‘inside’ shuttle missions and is to compliment the ‘outside’ xEMU spacesuit. They’ll be custom fit for every astronaut, and be the upgrade that branches the time gap from the 1970s era spacesuits still used today, as the xEMU is.
The all-female spacewalk was completed on the 18th October, marking a historic first in NASA’s 61 years of existence. This brings the number of women who have performed spacewalks up to 15, in comparison to 213 men.
Christina Koch and Jessica Meir took to space to make repairs on a failed power control unit, and the full five-and-a-half-hour process was live streamed, followed by a press conference to answer the public’s and reporters’ questions.
Image source: NASA