Apparently, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) can put a man on the moon, but fitting a woman with a size medium space suit is an insurmountable challenge.
Young women across America were ecstatic to learn last week that the first all-woman space walk would occur this month. It would be historic because while there have been women in space before, there never has been an all-female space mission.
Well, those hopes were dashed this week when NASA abruptly changed the mission and replaced one of the women astronauts with a man. Not because he was more qualified or she refused the mission, but because they had a space suit to fit more than one man, but apparently, not more than one medium-sized woman.
Admittedly, the specifications for spacesuits, which are specialized thermal protective uniforms, aren’t as simple as your run-of-the-mill Target khakis and red polo. But you’d think someone would have considered that with more than one female astronaut, there might be the need for a few smaller space suits.
Astronaut Anne McClain is the woman who was replaced on the mission by a man. McClain thought initially that a large-sized suit would be fine, but after a spacewalk last week she determined that a medium-sized suit fit better and would be more comfortable on her mission to the International Space Station. The problem: Re-sizing a space suit for the mission would take longer than replacing McClain on this mission with a man who could fit a size large suit.
Well, you know what happened next. Gotta wait, Anne. We don’t have your size in stock.
Despite the fact that only 11 percent of the people who have been to space have been women, you would have thought that NASA, with its decades of experience in momentous and historic space missions, would have planned for the day when multiple women would be on a mission.
Apparently, not. And it seems a little ridiculous.
What if other industries and businesses operated the same way?
Do hospitals only order large size surgical gloves and scrubs, or do they have a variety of sizes to fit medical professionals regardless of their gender?
Do shoe manufacturers only make men’s sizes, or do they manufacture a variety of sizes for women as well?
Given that 47 percent of the American labor force is comprised of women and their participation in traditionally male dominated fields including science, technology, engineering and mathematics has grown exponentially in the past 30 years, it is puzzling to me that NASA can be working today on plans for a space force but can’t figure out how to crank out more “girl sizes” for its female astronauts.
If you ever needed an example of the continued patriarchy in American society this is it. While I doubt, we’ll see feminists take to the streets in pink pussy hats to protest, you can bet that American women won’t forget that the greatest nation on Earth can put a man on a moon, but somehow forgot to order the right size spacesuits for its female astronauts.
But more importantly, I’ll bet there’s a woman somewhere at NASA right now working on a prototype for the next planned all-female spacewalk. And they’ll be enough suits for everyone.
Stacy Fitzgerald is a Washington, DC area Gen Xer whose obsessions include politics, traveling and food and wine ventures.