From NASA to SpaceX, numerous space agencies and private spaceflight companies have bold plans to send humans to Mars, perhaps even within the next few decades.
Given NASA’s ambitious plans to land astronauts on Mars by 2040, a hot topic of debate has been who will represent humanity on the Red Planet. Central to that speech is the 70-year-old argument that an all-female crew it would make more sense both biologically and psychologically, and not just as a matter of diversity and representation.
This thesis is supported by numerous scientific studies citing the fact that an all-female crew would consume fewer resources than an all-male crew, making the long-distance journey to Mars more efficient. However, many experts say that this argument is no longer relevant and that a diverse crew would ultimately perform better.
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Advantages of an all-female crew
Several Education they’ve found since the 1950s that women take up less space and consume lower amounts of life-support resources — such as oxygen, water and food — than men.
New calculations support this idea. In an article published in April in the magazine Scientific reportsa team of researchers has found that, on a 1,080-day mission, an all-female crew of four would need 3,736 pounds (1,695 kilograms) less of food than an all-male crew, saving of 158 million dollars.
“On average, women tend to be smaller than men, and therefore this metabolic advantage may be greater in women, as suggested by our calculations,” Jonathan Scott, a researcher at the French Institute of Space Medicine and Physiology and lead author of the study, he told Space.com. “This is why we concluded that there may be specific operational benefits of metabolic or life support resources for all-female crews during future human space exploration missions.”
In the space industry, a lot of time and effort is spent trying to make assets smaller, lighter, and more efficient, because the heavier a spacecraft (including fuel weight), the more fuel it takes to lift it against Earth’s gravity. Therefore, an all-female crew would be a logical solution for long-term missions like those to Mars, scientists have long argued.
In the latest study, Scott’s team used available data on astronauts’ average body mass and fitness and assumed that they would exercise twice a day, six days a week, which is the astronauts’ exercise regimen on the planet. International Space Station. (On the ISS, astronauts currently train for two hours a day, split into 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise and 45 minutes of resistance or strength training.)
On a three-year mission, a crew of four women with heights between 4 feet, 11 inches and 6 feet, 3 inches (1.5 to 1.9 meters) — roughly the criteria for today’s astronauts — consumed 5% to 29% fewer resources than men in the same height range.
Because this was a wide range of heights, the team also compared how resources would be consumed by astronauts in the 50th percentile of heights by gender, and found that a theoretical all-female crew would consume 11 percent to 41 % less life support resources. than an all-male crew would. Given the limited data available on real astronauts, particularly women, the team made a number of assumptions about future missions to complement the calculations, said Scott, who also conducts astronaut health care research for the Space Medicine team. of the European Space Agency.
However, Scott cautioned that the team “had to make a number of assumptions about future missions and how people would respond to them to complete the calculations.” Additionally, the team only had access to limited data from real astronauts, particularly on female astronauts, so the results aren’t yet complete enough to inform real missions.
“At this point, I don’t think our study will have any influence [on the gender of the crew for a Mars mission]and I don’t think it should,” he said. “The two studies we’ve done, one on theoretical men and one on theoretical astronauts, are just that: theoretical.”
“We have to move forward”
Despite similar results from several studies, some scientists say advances in technology have made these types of calculations much less relevant than they were at the start of the space program.
“We don’t need to go back in time; we need to move forward,” Dr. Saralyn Mark, director of healthcare innovation at Star Harbor, a spaceflight training facility in Colorado, told Space.com. “It’s not a question of who is better, smarter, faster [or] requires fewer resources. It’s a question of how well people train and what their value is to a mission.”
In the late 50s, each Mercury 7 the astronaut – NASA’s first space travelers – had to be small enough to fit into the small single-seat capsule of the Mercury spacecraft. They were all men, because women were prohibited from becoming military test pilots, which was the only entry point for astronauts at the time. In 1983, Sally Giro she became the first American woman in space.
Related: The first human on Mars could be a woman, NASA chief says
A lot has changed since then. Until now, 78 women flew into space and the first class of NASA astronauts with equal numbers of men and women (four each) was in 2013. Spacecraft designs have also evolved. THE Orion spacecraftNASA’s vehicle of choice for the crew missions to the moon and perhaps even on Mars, it is much less constrained than its predecessors and can carry four astronauts.
Diversity is key
While statistics suggest the theoretical benefits of an all-female crew, experts warn the numbers may not tell the whole story. Instead, they encouraged taking a broader view, and diversity is key to that perspective.
“If we’re talking about trying to reduce the weight and volume of the stuff we send with humans, then we can also reduce the weight and volume of the humans involved, but that doesn’t mean it has to be all female.” Michaela Musilova, former director of Habitat Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), told Space.com.
Experts echo a message they say is the key to a mission success: A diverse crew is more efficient and effective than a crew of only one gender. So the idea of an all-female crew, as pragmatic as that sounds, “would be a form of gender discrimination against men,” Mark said.
“We don’t want to organize this binary competition,” he added. “In today’s world, we have the technology; we have the skills to democratize space to ensure there is room for everyone.”
Instead, the focus should be on each individual’s many other abilities and how the group operates as a whole.
“This idea of all men or all women — it’s just not realistic,” Gloria Leon, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota who has studied mixed and single-gender crews on multiple analog missions, told Space.com. “There are so many other factors that go into the physiology of the individual and how that relates to their performance on a three-year mission.”
To study these factors, researchers rely on analogue space missions that simulate trips to the moon and Missions to Mars in remote areas of the Earth, such as the ALTA MARINA habitat in Hawaii. For a few months, these mock mission participants live as if they were on Mars, including completing research assignments and dealing with the 20-minute communication delay between Mars and Earth.
For a handful of those missions, Musilova specifically selected all-male or all-female crews to understand the differences; for most other missions, crews were not asked for details regarding gender or ethnicity. He found that there was nothing gender-specific that affected the efficiency or success of the various teams, but that the more diverse the crew, the more members were able to learn from each other, ultimately helping them. analysis to solve challenges and acquire new perspectives. she said.
“These days, gender really shouldn’t play such a big role,” Musilova said. “We should really focus more on having competent and capable people who, for space missions, are empathetic, can communicate well, are adaptable, patient and well trained for all the difficult situations that crews may go through and who train together as team so that they can work really well together and go through all those challenges and problems together.”
So what would diversity look like on a mission to Mars? The NASA crew Artemis mission 2that will make a woman fly further low earth orbit for the first time, it’s a good start, but there’s still a long way to go. For example, there is no research available on the effects of space flight on intersex or transgender people. Beyond genders, there is a huge gap in the nationalities of astronauts who have flown in space, and a manned mission to the Red Planet could be an opportunity to change that.
“I want everyone to see a part of themselves in the faces of those who go to Mars, because it’s basically a continuation of our species on another planet,” Mark said.
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