Why NASA only had 1 suit ready for the All Women Spacewalk

I was reading through the comments section of the following Refinery 29 article about SNL calling out NASA about not having enough women’s space suits on board for the All Womens Space Walk.

And I was in luck to come across a very detailed explanation as to why the All Women’s Space Walk didn’t go ahead.

Lauren Worley was the press secretary at NASA from 2011-2016. She explains the investment Congress has made in the human exploration program over the past decade that led to a small number of suits available for both men and women for the “All Woman Space Walk” announced recently by NASA.

we appreciate everyone’s renewed interest in women in space. 🚀❤️

Lauren Worley, Ex NASA Press Secretary

“There are currently 6 spacesuits used for spacewalks or EVAs available for use on the International Space Station – two mediums, two larges and two XLs. It takes about 12 hours to configure a spacesuit to meet the needs/fit for each spacewalker. Astronaut McClain has trained on the large but once she got to space, her sizing was alternated by living in near-weightlessness for over 100 days. This isn’t uncommon. So last Friday she did her EVA in the medium torso suit and it was a better working solution for her. The issue was that Astronaut Koch also needed to use the medium. It takes about 12 hours of crew time to reconfigure a suit – 12 hours that couldn’t be added to the astronauts’ already packed schedule in time for the Koch/McClain spacewalk.”

Astronauts quickly lose weight in space and return to Earth a little slimmer than when they left, scientists said Thursday in releasing findings from NASA’s most elaborate medical research mission. … It was the first time that astronauts had measured their body masses shortly after reaching orbit, Leach said. Sep 20, 1991

Astronauts Lose Weight Quickly in Space, Medical Data Shows

“A spacewalk is one of the most dangerous and physically demanding activity a human can do. In the interest of history, Astronaut McClain could have gone ahead and used the large suit that was previously configured for her – but she knew that wasn’t optimal for an 8-hour EVA. So she made the call to wait until the medium torso suit could be reconfigured, and Koch could do her scheduled first spacewalk but with Astronaut Hague.”

The innermost layer is made up of a Nylon tricot material. Another layer is composed of spandex, an elastic wearable polymer. There is also a layer of urethane-coated nylon, which is involved in pressurization. Dacron—a type of polyester—is used for a pressure-restraining layer.

How Space Suits are Made

“So to me, the real question is, why are there so few EMUs available on the space station for spacewalks – for women and for men? Astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to do a spacewalk in 1984, did a great interview on this topic. The NASA human exploration budget has remained relatively the same since the end of the Apollo program. The current spacewalk suits were designed over 40 years ago. During the Obama Administration, Congress consistently cut President Obama’s request for the commercial space program in half – which means a few things: 1) we underfunded the commercial development of American launch capacity by $1 billion in just 5 years and 2) during that same time, we spent $1 billion paying the Russian space program to ferry American astronauts to space. “

I would like the next president to support a budget that allows us to accomplish the mission that we are asked to perform, whatever that mission may be

NASA/Scott Kelly

“So this is the decision Congress has made over time, and NASA has been making the best of the budgetary situation. It’s my belief that we will soon see new investment in more advanced suits and other equipment as commercial companies like SpaceX, Boeing and Blue Origin bring their human vehicles online. But we are a decade behind due to the lack of early investment in this area.”


The two-stage Falcon 9 launch vehicle lifts off Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying the SpaceX’s Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 1:16 p.m. EST, Dec. 5, 2018. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacex/

“So TL;DR we only have 6 EVA suits operational on the ISS, and thus we will have to wait a little while longer for an all-female spacewalk. It will be worth the wait.”

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/26/us/nasa-spacesuits-trnd/index.html

Thank you Lauren Worley for giving us permission to republish your answer in the comments section of Refinery29.