Long, long ago, years ago, perhaps decades ago, in the distant past of 2019… I was given the opportunity to opportunity to write an opinion piece for The Washington Post. It was a chance for me to highlight some of the challenges faced by women in space.
Many of these challenges are institutional and rooted in historical discrimination; yet, even once they are identified, many are too costly for NASA to overcome in modern day. For example, the Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMU) that astronauts wear to conduct spacewalks were all designed more than 40 years ago, when all astronauts were men. Today, eighteen are still in use and only four are rated for spaceflight. Two of those are size medium and suitable for women (albeit with padding and some improvisation on fit), but only one is prepped for space. This means that the likelihood of women being denied opportunities to perform spacewalks is much higher, simply because the EMUs aren’t as readily available. When time is tightly scheduled and at a premium, they can’t spare the hours it would take to get the second medium EMU ready.
NASA has been aware of the problem with the EMUs for decades but lacks the funding to create new ones. All they can do is try to keep 40-year-old suits going, carrying a decades-long imprint of sexism into the present. Why are we asked to adapt our own spacesuits just to participate in space exploration?