Today’s spacewalk at the International Space Station wasn’t as historic as it was originally meant to be, but it got the job done nevertheless.
NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch connected a set of three lithium-ion batteries on a pair of the station’s solar arrays, replacing a set of six older, less powerful nickel-hydrogen batteries.
The six-hour, 45-minute outing followed up on a spacewalk that Hague and NASA crewmate Anne McClain conducted last week to swap out a similar set of batteries. It turns out that one of those newly installed batteries hasn’t been charging properly. To remedy the situation, Hague and Koch did some set-up work that will make it possible for two of the nickel-hydrogen batteries to take its place. That part of the job will be completed using the station’s robotic arm.
Originally, NASA planned to have Koch and McClain take on today’s extravehicular tasks. That would have made it the first all-female spacewalk in history. Women have gone on spacewalks many times before, dating back to 1984, but always in the company of men.
A spacesuit sizing issue led to a change in plan. After last week’s outing, McClain decided she’d be more comfortable and safer in a medium-size spacesuit torso rather than a large-size torso — but only one medium-size item had been readied for today’s spacewalk.
That led NASA to shift the lineup, pairing Koch (and the medium-size spacesuit torso) with Hague instead of McClain. NASA explained the rationale in a tweet:
We’ve seen your tweets about spacesuit availability for Friday’s spacewalk. To clarify, we have more than 1 medium size spacesuit torso aboard, but to stay on schedule with @Space_Station upgrades, it’s safer & faster to change spacewalker assignments than reconfigure spacesuits. pic.twitter.com/tPisBHaF2p
— NASA (@NASA) March 26, 2019
The shift came as a deep disappointment to many who were looking forward to a new milestone for women on the final frontier. But in a tweet, McClain herself insisted it was the right thing to do:
This decision was based on my recommendation. Leaders must make tough calls, and I am fortunate to work with a team who trusts my judgement. We must never accept a risk that can instead be mitigated. Safety of the crew and execution of the mission come first. https://t.co/VU9QNaHHlK
— Anne McClain (@AstroAnnimal) March 27, 2019
Today McClain tweeted that she “couldn’t be prouder” of her spacewalking crewmates.
McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques are due to take on the next spacewalk on April 8. The first all-female spacewalk will have to wait for another day, when NASA has the right spacesuits in shape.