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NASA’s Female Astronauts Great STEM Role Models

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It’s not at all uncommon for the U.S. space agency NASA to delay or call off planned missions. The stakes are obviously extremely high when it comes to rockets and outer space, and there have been numerous well-publicized disasters when things don’t go exactly as planned. But recently, NASA had to cancel a planned spacewalk due to relatively mundane factors that ultimately prevented a major milestone for women.

Milestone All-Female Spacewalk Canceled Due to Spacesuit Availability

“It hadn’t been planned as a historic mission, yet it would have represented a moment of sorts: the first all-female spacewalk,” write Jacey Fortin and Karen Zraick in an article for the New York Times.“But that moment will have to wait, NASA said Monday, because of a somewhat basic issue — spacesuit sizes.” They add that the two astronauts who were scheduled to conduct the mission — Anne C. McClain and Christina H. Koch — would both have needed to wear a medium-size torso component. But only one is readily available at the International Space Station.

Fortin and Zraick reported that NASA itself didn’t realize they would potentially be making history: “In a briefing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston this month, Ms. Lawrence, Ms. Kagey and Kenneth Todd, the station’s operations integration manager, said officials had not immediately recognized the significance of the original lineup for Friday’s ‘extravehicular activity,’ or EVA. It was only as they discussed the schedule during a meeting that they realized it was the first time they had scheduled an all-female spacewalk.”

Related: The Case for More Female Leadership in Tech

All-Female Spacewalk Increasingly Likely

While McClain and Koch didn’t get to do the first all-female spacewalk, after some rescheduling, both women will have done a spacewalk. And in the broader scheme of things, NASA administrators say that even though there has yet to be an all-female spacewalk, one is becoming increasingly likely due to the continued increase in the representation of women within the organization. That by itself is in many ways more significant than the gender composition of individual operators.

It’s widely known that the world of STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—is not widely populated by women. NASA’s efforts to put women front and center are not only historically significant but also create role models for young girls who may be prompted to pursue STEM careers.

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