NASA has cancelled the first ever historic “all-women” spacewalk that was scheduled for this week, all because of the lack of the right size spacesuits. The spacewalk outside the International Space Station will continue as planned, but with Astronaut Nick Hague replacing Astronaut Anne McClain and accompanying Astronaut Christina Koch.

The change took place after Astronaut McClain realized she would be more comfortable in a medium sized spacesuit instead of the large size she was wearing during training and her first ever spacewalk last week. She found it difficult to manoeuver comfortably in the large suit whilst performing her tasks of swapping out ageing batteries. While there are two medium-sized spacesuits available on the space station, only one is prepped for a spacewalk, making the change necessary at short notice.

While there are two medium-sized spacesuits available on the space station, only one is prepped for a spacewalk, making the change necessary at short notice.

NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz told the New York Times, “When you have the option of just switching the people, the mission becomes more important than a cool milestone.”

I agree.

Just because it is Women’s History Month, we don’t need to put lives at risk for an historic all-women spacewalk.

But it draws one’s attention to the fact, that by design — conscious or not — women are often left out of opportunities that otherwise might be open to them. Take for example the size of spacesuits. Some time ago, the small size was discontinued due to cost issues. That means, women who have smaller bodies than men are often left out, and, as Astronaut Mike Fincke told NPR, “Anyone who was on the smaller side wouldn’t be able to make a spacewalk.”

Just because it is Women’s History Month, we don’t need to put lives at risk for an historic all-women spacewalk.

Another example are car seat belts which are designed for men’s bodies and not necessarily women’s. Seat belts are meant to protect one from injury in case of an accident, but this design flaw results in more women being vulnerable to injuries. The University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics, in a 2011 study found that there was a 47 percent higher chance of serious injury for seat belted female drivers compared to their male counterparts, even after controlling for age, height, weight and the severity of the crash. In case of moderate injuries, the difference rose to 71 percent.

This clearly shows that we need different designs for males and females whether it comes to seat belt or spacesuits. A different design means there is going to be a financial investment in testing, manufacturing and maintenance of the equipment. This is expensive and could amount to millions of dollars.

This clearly shows that we need different designs for males and females whether it comes to seat belt or spacesuits.

Is the investment justified? I would dare to say: Yes.

Women are half the world’s population. If allowed to exercise their human rights freely, they surely would participate in all activities equally and as safely as their male counterparts whether it means driving a car or changing a solar panel on the International Space Station. Why should they be excluded from any of these activities given that their male counterparts are not disallowed from it? Or be subject to unnecessary risk? If they qualify under the same rules (no one is asking for a quota system here), then they should have truly an equal opportunity. It, therefore, means that if an investment needs to be made, then it must be made.

Women are half the world’s population. If allowed to exercise their human rights freely, they surely would participate in all activities equally and as safely as their male counterparts.

As Astronaut McClain says, “From the age of three years old, I knew I wanted to be an astronaut.”

Let’s not stifle the dreams and aspirations of half the population because we don’t factor them into the equation.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

Picture Credit: New York Daily News

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