What should have been a giant leap for womankind has turned into a stumble on the path to equality after U.S. space agency NASA canceled the first all-female spacewalk due to a lack of a spacesuit in the right size.
Anne McClain and Christina Koch had been due to step into history books in a spacewalk on Friday, during the final week of Women's History Month.
But McClain will now give up her place on the mission to her male colleague Nick Hague, NASA announced late Monday.
"Mission managers decided to adjust the assignments, due in part to spacesuit availability on the station," NASA said in a statement.
"McClain learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit – fits her best. Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it."
Nearly 60 years after the first human blasted off into space, less than 11 percent of the 500 plus people who have traveled to space have been women, and spacewalk teams have either been all-male or male-female.
McClain and Koch were both part of the 2013 NASA class that was 50 percent women.
NASA said the decision to change the plan was made in consultation with McClain after a spacewalk last week.
"Anne trained in M and L and thought she could use a large but decided after Friday's spacewalk a medium fits better," wrote spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz on Twitter.
"In this case, it's easier (and faster!) to change spacewalkers than reconfigure the spacesuit."
The spacesuits aboard the ISS are in fact assemblies of several parts put together as best adapted to each astronaut's body, explained Brandi Dean, spokeswoman of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where American astronauts are based.
She said two upper parts in each of the three available spacesuit sizes are currently held at the ISS: medium, large and extra large.
"We do our best to anticipate the spacesuit sizes that each astronaut will need, based on the spacesuit size they wore in training on the ground, and in some cases astronauts train in multiple sizes," she said in explaining the problem that hampered Friday's planned spacewalk.
"However, individuals' sizing needs may change when they are on orbit, in response to the changes living in microgravity can bring about in a body.
"In addition, no one training environment can fully simulate performing a spacewalk in microgravity, and an individual may find that their sizing preferences change in space."
The NASA announcement was met with disappointment and anger by many following the much-anticipated mission on social media, with some arguing an all-female spacewalk was overdue.
Others said they were sad that a milestone moment on women's space exploration had been deferred, but safety came first.
"I'm super disappointed about the all-woman spacewalk not happening as scheduled this Friday but I'm also super supportive of astronauts having the authority to say 'I would be safer using a different piece of equipment'," wrote Emily Lakdawalla, a senior editor at the U.S. non-profit The Planetary Society.
"An all-woman spacewalk WILL eventually happen."