Making The Case For All-Female Exploration Missions To Mars And Beyond

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell in the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

A recent study in Nature Scientific Reports by Jonathan P. R. Scott and colleagues makes the case for sending exclusively all-female crews on long-duration missions. The reasoning here is simple: women have significant less body mass, with in the US the 50th percentile for women being 59.2 kg and 81.8 kg for men. This directly translates into a low total energy expenditure (TEE), along with a lower need for everything from food to water to oxygen. On a long-duration mission, this could conceivably save a lot of resources, thus increasing the likelihood of success.

With this in mind, it does raise the question of why female astronauts aren’t more commonly seen throughout Western space history, with Sally Ride being the first US astronaut to fly in 1983. This happened decades after the first female Soviet cosmonaut, when Valentina Tereshkova made history in 1963 on Vostok 6, followed by Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982 and again in 1984, when she became the first woman to perform a spacewalk.

With women becoming an increasingly more common sight in space, it does bear looking at what blocked Western women for so long, despite efforts to change this. It all starts with the unofficial parallel female astronaut selection program of the 1950s.

Fighting Tradition

When the Space Age began in the 1950s, Western society was still struggling with emancipation, especially with the Cold War as a clash of cultures reinforcing many stereotypes regarding the role of the woman in society. Even as Soviet women were free to take up jobs even after getting married and manage their own affairs, the ‘nuclear family‘, with the woman as the caretaker of the plentiful offspring was seen as the ultimate counterpoint to this, and a rejection of ‘communist’ ideals.

One result of this was the corresponding drop in women following higher education, with the share of women college students falling from about 47% in 1920 to 38% by 1958 in the US. Although more financial aid was available via the government for education, societal pressures fed into most households being single-income, with the husband making money and the wife taking care of the family and household matters. This pattern didn’t begin to change until the 1970s.

In light of all this, there wasn’t so much a single reason why US women did not generally make it into high-up places – including the skies and space – but rather the fallout from a complex patchwork of societal expectations, poor scientific practices and an astounding amount of cognitive biases that led to this widespread discrimination. This was a practice that was reflected in the US military, with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC, established as the WAAC in 1942) as well as the 1948 established Women in the Air Force (WAF) heavily limiting the duties that could be performed by the women in either.

Ultimately, when it came to selecting the first US astronauts, these would be selected from ideally the most fit candidates, preferably from the Air Force and similar extreme fitness backgrounds. That only male candidates were considered was in light of all this therefore both a logical result and par for the course. This did not mean that it was an absolute, however, with William Randolph Lovelace II‘s efforts while working as head of NASA’s Life Sciences being instrumental in unofficially qualifying female astronaut candidates alongside the male candidates for Project Mercury.

Mercury 13

Jerrie Cobb poses next to a Mercury spaceship capsule. (Credit: NASA)
Jerrie Cobb poses next to a Mercury spaceship capsule. (Credit: NASA)

The name for the group of thirteen women who went through this selection process, ‘the Mercury 13‘, was coined in 1995 by Hollywood producer James Cross as a comparison with the Mercury 7. Even so, it essentially captures the parallel nature of this program within Project Mercury. Even as the male astronaut candidates went through the rigorous testing program, so did the female candidates under guidance of Dr. Lovelace and his team, starting with Jerrie Cobb, a highly accomplished aviator.

Although Jerrie Cobb and twelve others with similar qualifications as her passed the tests with flying colors, NASA’s requirement for the Project Mercury astronauts was that the candidates were all military test pilots, experienced with high-speed flight and with an engineering background. This precluded all of the potential female candidates and despite lobbying attempts by Lovelace, Cobb and others, ultimately only male astronauts would fly.

After Valentina Tereshkova’s solo space flight in 1962, she would ridicule the US and its purported freedoms, where a woman was denied the opportunity to compete equally with men. It would still take twenty-one years after that comment before the first female US astronaut would make it to space. Ultimately none of the ‘Mercury 13’ would fly to space, although Wally Funk would fly on a suborbital flight with Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle at the age of 82, making her the only one of the thirteen women to make it nearly to space.

It’s The Biology, Silly

Although the logic of the modeling performed by Jonathan P. R. Scott and colleagues in their paper on the benefits of a female crew makes objectively sense, it’s important to consider the main concerns that were raised despite these female candidates passing the same tests as their male counterparts, as summarized in a 1964 paper by J. R. Betson & R. R. Secrest titled Prospective women astronauts selection program in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (doi:10.1016/0002-9378(64)90446-6).

Essentially the concern raised was about the suitability of a woman in the operating of complex machinery while she would be on her period, and the effect this might have on her mental faculties, as well as the complications of having to deal with the menstrual flow. Males would be more optimal in this regard, with a stable endocrine system and no complications to consider.

As we have found since the 1960s, women can most definitely function in space, and there are a number of ways to deal with a period while in space, including not having periods at all. The latter is accomplished with contraceptives that suppress ovulation, where instead of having an ‘off week’ each month the contraceptive is constantly supplied, possibly as a subdermal system for flights to Mars. Although on the ISS dealing with waste and having sanitary products shuttled up from Earth’s surface is doable, for long-term missions it’s obvious that it is an aspect that has to be considered as well.

As for the emotional stability and similar aspects, none of these were found to be valid concerns over the decades that female astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts have spent time in space. There is after all no fundamental difference between men and women beyond their biological sex and the associated endocrine system. As demonstrated by e.g. Daphne Joel et al. in a 2015 study involving fMRI scans of male and female volunteers, despite the physical (size) differences between male and female brains, they are not sexually dimorphic. Rather than personality being determined by the biological sex, it is a purely unique, individualistic pattern.

What this means is that the typical selection procedures for astronauts involving not only physical challenges but also psychological tests apply equally, regardless of the candidate’s biological sex.

Transgenerational Shenanigans

Considering the scientific evidence, it is in a sense rather tragic that a headline like ‘all-female Mars mission crew’ should even make the headlines. Many decades after the ‘Mercury 13’ tried to make their case, and after a few decades now of both male and female astronauts working side by side, it should be clear that the goal for any mission is to pick the right crew for the job. If that means picking the astronauts who have the lowest body mass and resulting lowest energy, water and oxygen requirements, and they also happen to be overwhelmingly female, then that is good mission design.

Especially when it comes to a highly dangerous mission, such as a long-duration mission to Mars, the primary concern ought to be what would give the crew the highest chances of success. If hundreds of kilograms of supplies could be cut, or be kept back as emergency supplies because the crew is composed solely of individuals slim in stature, then that makes sense in any logical way. Even if the trauma of generations of anti-intellectual and pseudo-scientific nonsense regarding certain groups in society insist that we should discuss it in great length once again.

While it is great to see that things have definitely changed since the 1960s, the struggles of the Mercury 13 women and the countless others like them over the decades should not be forgotten.

(Heading image: Astronaut Tracy Caldwell in the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA) )

117 thoughts on “Making The Case For All-Female Exploration Missions To Mars And Beyond

  1. Super interesting and enlightening article, thanks. Gave me things to think about that I’d never considered before. And I love the juicy inversion of the old 20th century conclusion that men are more appropriate for space flight, using the 20th century logic (i.e., who is biologically more fit).

  2. On Mars there will be an opportunity to test whether water swirls one way or another when toilet is flushed. This could confirm or invalidate our current approach to physics.

  3. Why hasn’t this happened in the past? Simple, biology and overall intrinsic behavior.

    Women on the whole TODAY prefer more flexible and fulfilling jobs (teacher, nurse, and others), and there are numerous studies that support that.

    When you consider the requirements to be an astronaut, a heavy background in engineering and math, coupled with the demands of typically military flight school, then a long arduous career at NASA before *maybe* getting assigned to a Space Mission, it doesn’t jive with normal female workplace desires and typical education.

    DESPITE women outnumbering men in higher education, they simply do not *choose* to pursue the hard sciences and math in the same proportion (see cite above as well)

    While fine in theory, NASA would have a hard time sourcing an all female crew, give the much smaller candidate pool, which could lead to astronaut selection, not based on experience, merit, and skill, but based solely on gender.

    This entire article basically has no business being on hackaday and completely ignores actual reasons there aren’t more female astronauts, CHOICE.

    1. As you said, most don’t choose hard science or math. They also don’t choose to be miners, roofers, construction workers, etc. But… Physical strength might be very needed for the first wave of exploration, just as it was hundreds of years ago.

    2. That’s just silly. The pool is enourmous and the crew is really small. There will be backups and backups to the backups of an all female crew if they want to go with that.

    3. What a load of sexist crap. What are “normal female workplace desires”? I’ve worked with lots of women in scientific, medical, aviation and engineering roles, and found in general a higher level of motivation and competence than in their male colleagues.

      1. Statistics shows that they are far less present in certain fields of work, despite being majority of graduates for some time now. It’s a choice, not a conspiracy.

      2. Indeed this is misogynistic claptrap! It’s like they completely missed the “Mercury 13” part (who all passed the tests with flying colours, the only reason they hadn’t met the selection criteria was because they had been actively prevented from taking on the same roles as men in the air force – i.e. they never had the choice in the first place so were automatically disqualified by men with too fragile egos) compared to the “Mercury 7” part.

        As another commenter says, this mysoginistic claptrap is just silly.

        If the “hack” that significantly increases likelihood of a successful first mission to Mars is that it should be majority womanned, rather than majority manned (and that this is something we should probably have realised decades ago) then it absolutely belongs on Hackaday. It’s pretty crazy that we’re almost a quarter of the way through the 21st Century and this still needs pointing out.

        I expect too many men are just afraid that another planet might be first colonised by women…

          1. Darwin’s Theory was that the being most likely to survive would be that which adapted best to its environment. So there will be environments in which male, or female, hermaphroditic, or even gender-fluid beings have the greatest likelihood of surviving, purely based on their adaptability. BUT it was about *probability*, which means there are absolutely beings that buck the trend and still survive in spite of not adapting well.

          2. “So there will be environments in which male, or female, hermaphroditic, or even gender-fluid beings have the greatest likelihood of surviving, purely based on their adaptability. ”

            We’re NOT going to Mars. China will. Other countries maybe. But we won’t because I predict that our space program planners will never get past resolving the truly important issues–like whether all future missions should include a drag queen who can read to the crew.

            Seriously… If someone wants to make the case that males are (or were) the best choice for missions because of upper body strength, more robust bones (therefore more tolerant of calcium loss on a long mission) or other physical predispositions because of the way they are built, I’m willing to listen. Conversely, if the argument is that women are better (because of body mass, or the way they metabolize compared to men, XX chromosomes, whatever…I’ll happily consider that argument too.

            However, “gender fluidity” is not a physical attribute (which is what is being discussed here). It is a behavior. Sexual -behavior- in humans can be very fluid, but an XY human can’t become an XX human simply because Bud Light puts your face on a beer can.

            If, in the distant future, we need a Captain-Kirkian mission leader willing to have sex with aliens regardless of the nature of their reproductive equipment, or if it is determined that the only way long term space travel is sustainable is if humans engage in switch-hitting space-orgies to while away the time, maybe sexual behavior fluidity will become relevant in a discussion like this. “Gender fluidity” is and will remain oxymoronic.

    4. Please watch “Code: debugging the gender gap”.

      These careers are usually actively hostile to females in the workplace. And gender norms do not show being smart as sexy, so girls usually start pulling away from hard science and engineering. Please educate yourself and don’t add to the misogyny in this world.

    5. Statistically, you have a point. But statistics are meaningless at the individual level. We send few enough people to space, nevermind mars, that defining them statistically is pointless.

      Are there fewer women to choose from with appropriate backgrounds? Yes. Are you going to send even one tenth of one percent of those that would qualify? No.

      To your choice thing, you may see a significant change in the cultural biases driving those choices with a renewed space program. Though who knows. Maybe crew after crew of five-foot nothing pixies visiting Mars will create a whole new form of body dismorphea for future generations.

    6. Astronauts are actually very unlikely to be engineers these days. We’ve found out through the years it’s best to keep the engineers on the ground. That might be different for a mars mission, but it’s generally more important to have doctors and scientists in space.

    1. There is a certainly a case to be made, especially for people whose small size isn’t correlated with health problems.

      If you could wave a magic wand and cut humanity’s mean height in half, we’d need 1/4 of the floorspace, and 1/8 of the food and energy, and in many situations those factors would compound. Obviously on Earth you’d still have to rebuild everything to get the benefits, even if it were possible. But for a new Mars colony it could be a real plan.

      1. there is a case for a human derivative species capable of prolonged space flight. either engineered or obtained though eugenics. obviously both are loaded with ethical question marks (and a few exclamation points). it might also occur through natural selection if colonization activities persist for long enough.

  4. by this logic, would you not just get rid of the fitness and physical requirements altogether and bring smaller men along with women. this is dumb af it acts as if all humans of the same gender are the same and as if the physical requirements for men dont matter if you bring women

    1. Personally, I’m confused by the concept of saving weight and so and so much food/water. Isn’t it it desirable that the astronauts have no need to starve in first place? Their brains must be allowed to function properly.

      Why not compensate for this by building larger rockets/starships and carrying more propellant? There’s a difference, sure, but the difference isn’t stellar, after all. Humans are tiny compared to the total mass of the ship.

      A large oxygen supply is also important, no matter the size/weight of the crew members. The USSR model of using oxygen+nitrogen (“air”) was wiser than pure oxygen, also, by the way. It’s what the human body was made for and is less inflammable/dangerous.

      So if we carry both gases, the weight is increased, anyway. Sure, there’s the possibility to recycle that nitrogen that astronauts create when they breathe and use it to maintain a good nitrogen/oxygen balance.

      But on initial start, nitrogen already has to be present if the USSR model is used.
      On the other hand, less nitrogen filters are required if the USSR model was used, which in turn can reduce weight.

      I suppose that mass/weight vs resource game can be played even further, rendering the men vs woman weight argument ad absurdum?

      1. You are missing the point. It is not the extra fuel needed to carry 20 kg more astronaut. It is that having 20 kg more body weight means ~30% more food/day, ~30% more water/day, ~30% larger life support systems, etc. If you multiple by the duration of trip, also the extra strain it’ll put on existing system which will then require extra spares of equipment to be taken, in totality, and then combine this with the fact that the extra fuel needed to move this extra mass itself requires extra fuel to carry itself, you might see a space craft that is 2-3x larger. That will come at 3-4x the cost. So it is not a minor difference.

        1. Trying to optimize and minimize before you can even get there is silly. It’s like planning to take a dinghy across the Atlantic to go find the Americas.

          If the mission has such small margins of success and so constrained on resources that you have to optimize even the people, what’s the point of the mission? What does it even prove? It’s just one of those cases of “can do it, but…”.

          1. Either you optimize the people, or you accept that most of them are going to die as failures for no gain… The first attempts at anything challenging and new doesn’t have the decades of expertise and refinements learned the hard way by the survivors of the best people you could get for that job initially. So if you send a whole group of skilless random folk…

          2. >Either you optimize the people, or you accept that most of them are going to die

            Back in the sailing ship days, ships would often get stuck on low winds. They dealt with it by having the provisions to survive twice as long if needed. The same thing applies here: you shouldn’t plan the mission such that it’s just barely survivable.

          3. And how many of the earliest days of sail explorers came back? It isn’t until really quite recently in history that the building of boats big enough to hold lots of provisions really start to be built or navigation improves enough to really know how long such a journey should take.

            And even that isn’t actually enough – take Sir John Franklin and his crews fate as a case in point – you need the right people to do that job, which he really doesn’t seem to have been (For instance John Rae who is sadly largely forgotten but tied to the same historical events).

            Also lack of ability to have excess stores has never stopped people, and most of the time though history I don’t think you could wait for the tech to become available, as without those that tried, struggled but found the existing flaws and better systems you don’t have any data to improve with!

        2. “fact that the extra fuel needed to move this extra mass itself requires extra fuel to carry itself, you might see a space craft that is 2-3x larger. That will come at 3-4x the cost. So it is not a minor difference.”

          Yeah, if we start from earth, it makes sense.
          Rocket technology is primitive, also.
          However, it’s not a biologic problem, but a technological one.
          An astronaut who weights 15 kg more doesn’t cause the spaceship to be 2-3x larger or 100 tons heavier. 🙄
          But even if he/she/they did, choosing lightweight materials could be used as a compensation. It’s better than not using an excellent astronaut, just because he/she/they has heavy bones.

          The same old problem do we have here on earth and it’s manageable, btw.
          Just think of aeroplanes. However, saving fuel because fuel causes weight has often been fatal.

          Planes ran out of fuel in air already, because the fuel was too scarce. Such resource efficient thinking is fatal, I think. A reserve should always be available and part of the calculations, in case of an emergency

          By contrast, space travel is much easier. There’s no need to uphold speed by being required to let the engines run. Rather, braking is a problem once the destination is in sight. It costs similar resourcesllike acceleration at start. But even that can be circumvented by changing course and using swing-by maneuvers or aero braking in a planet’s/moon’s atmosphere.

          1. “choosing lightweight materials as a compensation”… I think you may not be familiar with how little margin is left in spaceflight design. Essentially every “lightweight material” or lightweighting technique is already being deployed. Using “lightweight” humans, be they female or male or non-conforming, would generally be a good choice. Overall, the success of the mission is most assured if you have the SMARTEST humans, irrespective of size, but if you have two equally qualified candidates and one is 50kg and the other is 100kg, you’d be foolish to pick the 100kg candidate. The lightest weight human is NO human, which is why all of the missions that have gone further than the moon (to date) have used unmanned craft.

  5. I’m not sure all women make sense, the reasoning given seems mostly sound as needed less resources is always good, though small blokes exist.

    But there are other elements to consider like ability to maintain muscle mass, which I understand to be easier to males (but that is not my area of expertise). And there are bound to be times where a larger stronger crewmember is useful even in zero-G and certainly when there is a G of some sort. And while that doesn’t have to mean male it is for the same reasoning of the ‘all female crew’ headline is sort of correct that role is more likely to be male, but again you get small blokes, and pretty damn giant womanfolk too…

    1. It also ignores the shear lack of female astronauts due to the rigorous extremely long education and training process. It brushes those off with a vague “women are discriminated against” but conveniently ignores women tend to have much higher education levels than men….yet there are far fewer in stem.

      So if the goal is to get an all female crew, have you really picked the most qualified crew, or are you making the decision based on gender, when the same could be accomplished with weight limits as you mentioned.

      1. Do you ever think even for just a second that people like you might be a contributing factor to the lack of women in stem, or do you just presume that you’re always right.

        1. gregori128, you think all women are victims. Admit it. As soon as you see a women, you think to your self “victim”. Just like the men who run HackADay, you live in a culture that teaches women never to take responsibility for their actions so the reality of differences between the genders is hard for you to not automatically put in the ‘women hating’ category.

          I want to know honestly, how in this day and age with the internet so easily accessible, how you’ve never heard of anthropology or evolutionary physiology specifically the cross cultural data that blows your world view out of the water? How is it reasonably smart people can keep their heads in the sand for so long into adulthood?

          If it turns out there’s biological differences between men and women, that would mean they aren’t always victims. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Why is it you people get so hostile to the scientific realty of men and women?

          1. Why do people like you and Darwin (or his readers) try to use science to justify a false sense of superiority (whether physical or otherwise) based on perceived physiological differences? Women have, traditionally, been discriminated against and treated unfairly in many modern societies, I think you’d agree. Seeking an equitable solution may not sit well with many (like reparations or affirmative action), but that’s not even on the table at present- I think what many readers (or at least commenters) here believe might be that it’s important to at least have the discussion to make sure current and future endeavors keep in mind past injustices and actively seek to avoid them. None of that makes them victims, nor should we- as men- claim to understand their reality (whether that’s one of victimhood or not), but it does mean that those of us (and I know you’re not gonna want to hear this) in traditional posititions of privilege (for many that’s white male Christian) have the obligation of re-examining the power dynamics and other potentially contributing factors to ensure that the majority doesn’t just protect its power and ignore the needs of the minority (in the workforce, program, school, voting pool, industry, etc). By nature, the minority has a quieter voice, so is often drowned out and ignored by the majority. That means the majority is responsible for taking extra steps to ensure the minority group isn’t disenfranchised (or victimized).

      2. These examples are all due to institutionalised mysogeny on top of social pressure from outside. In other words, they have zero bearing on the eligibility concerns in this discussion.

  6. The wedge issue this season isn’t inclusiveness, but social revenge.. I mean justice. To succeed, NASA has to kowtow to anyone who is likely to get elected over entirely different issues – what the public actually thinks has nothing to do with it.

  7. We’re all engineer-adjacent and realize this is illogical, right? If your requirement is low-mass, make low-mass the requirement, not some tenuous proxy variable for mass. Injecting exogenous requirements was what caused the problem in the first place – note how the complaint is ‘the women had passed all the same tests.’

    1. If the requirement is actually how practical it is to provide for the needs of N people on a months-long journey, then not even mass itself is the problem. Actual food requirements and necessary health products both count.

  8. NASA’s mission isn’t to stoke hopes and dreams. Their goal is to be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars, while exploring Space with the most qualified personnel.

  9. Back in the 90s, I still thought of a mixed crew when I heard the terms “astronaut” or “cosmonaut”. I had those pictures in my head of various people floating through MIR space station. And I thought it was just natural that a mixed crew was on board. Now we’re here in the 2020s and we have nothing better to do than discussing who’s superior or which a gender someone has. What happened to true equality? In the 90s, it seemed as if was so close. I miss the 90s.😢

  10. And there’s the opposite view: There was a case made a few years ago to send *fat* people on long-duration missions, as that’s the most mass-efficient way to send food calories. They’ll burn just a kilogram a week of their own fat instead of 10 kg/wk of shipped food.

    1. I would think that it would be easier to send a container full of dense high calorie food (mostly fat and some protein), than have to deal with the weight loss and change in body shape that would require different size clothes and space suits.

      1. Agreed. Also the intense psychological problems that come with perceived starvation. The people I know who get the hangriest are overweight people. Although that’s not a scientific observation, obviously.

    2. How about slowing down the metabolism. Not exactly cryostasis, but more like an artificial coma or hibernation. By design, all mammals can do hibernation, including humans. Of course, they process is stressful to the body and consumes energy, but it would get away with the psychological stress problem on a long odyssey. An AI could watch over the sleeping process, for example.

      1. A perfectly modest proposal. When there’s a surplus of power and no other mission requirements to attend to, the AI might as well use the ship’s computing resources for continued training, such as learning to lip-read.

        Where do I sign up?

    3. Now that is what I call a counter-intuitive solution.
      We have plenty of obese people that could nourish themselves into the outer reaches of the galaxy !

  11. > in a 2015 study involving fMRI scans of male and female volunteers, despite the physical (size) differences between male and female brains, they are not sexually dimorphic

    The hidden assumption in that flawed study is that sexual dimorphism would have such gross discerning characteristics that they would show up in a fairly low resolution fMRI scan.

  12. As demonstrated by e.g. Daphne Joel et al. in a 2015 study involving fMRI scans of male and female volunteers, despite the physical (size) differences between male and female brains, they are not sexually dimorphic.

    This is absolutely not what the study demonstrates or claims to demonstrate. The study shows that there are extensive, consistent dimorphism in male and female brains when they are controlled for size, but that there are more structures in common than dimorphic.
    Which really doesn’t tell us much of anything, actually.

  13. >despite the physical (size) differences between male and female brains, they are not sexually dimorphic
    This is either poor phrasing or outright doublethink.

    1. Indeed. Behavior comes from our brains, so any sexual dimorphism in behavior must come from corresponding differences in brains. If an instrument can’t detect those differences, then the instrument is looking at the wrong things.

      1. Blue whales have more disposable energy to meet the brain’s metabolism requirements. In humans, the brain is quite costly in relation to the rest of the body, and it would be a huge benefit if you could perform the exact same tasks with a smaller brain and less calories.

        1. But isn’t it unethical to value/judge people by their brain specifications?
          What about human dignity? Shouldn’t the tools (space ships, space stations etc) be adapted to the needs of people, rather than vice versa? Why do people even think lile that? Without our resource “wasting” brains, we weren’t here discussing things, even. Isn’t that kind of paradox ? 🤷‍♂️

          1. Humans exist in the world, the world doesn’t exist to serve humans. We aren’t priority number one. Human dignity is a luxury that you can’t afford in dangerous frontiers (space being one example).

          2. Everything in life puts a value or judgement on people based on their skills and abilities – you simply can’t do anything else!

            Some values are greater than others for the task at hand, and some can’t just be ignored for the good qualities somewhere else – take a great example in Stephen Hawking, a really great mind, expert even in the fields of study that might be applicable to this ‘space exploration’ mission concept. But a body so broken, with current technologies at least almost entirely rules somebody like him out.

            Even if you are in the cyborg/augmented human future where any physical limits can and will be ‘fixed’ the basic intelligence, knowledge, and personality of the person involved can’t be matched to the task at hand so trivially, even if it becomes possible as that is more like death than assistive tech. You wouldn’t effectively commit suicide and become somebody else you didn’t want to be just because it makes you right for this job, in a world where such a tech exists you would already have tweaked yourself to whatever you wished to be, if that matches the task great you are a potential selection, if it doesn’t… (at least within whatever limitations legal or technical may be set)

  14. I had this same discussion about 3 years ago answering a forum question.

    Even with males and females of the same size the males usually need more food intake because of a higher metabolism (average numbers); for athletic females the numbers are similar to male requirements. Additionally because of their differing metabolism and chemistry females need to eat a different balance of nutrients to maintain health.

    1. >Even with males and females of the same size the males usually need more food intake because of a higher metabolism

      That’s pretty much what this paper predicted for energy consumed, O2 consumption/CO2 production, heat production, and water requirements. They point out these were theoretical calculations, so it would be worth testing them.

      1. Women produce more waste with their menstruating. Men are stronger and can lift more weight, handle more physical labor, etc. Women can make babies and populate a colony. Anyone can pick or choose a random statistic that would justify why one sex would be more economical to send to Mars.

      2. Using continuous combined hormone contraceptive pills (taking a “real” pill everyday) rather than using a cyclic regiment (taking a “fake” pill for one week each month) has been known for decades to postpone or eliminate menstrual flow. The same can be achieved using progesterone containing intrauterine devices (IUDs). Other less common strategies are also well known. So I really don’t think periods are an insurmountable concern. In fact, that topic is probably very, very low on the priority list.

    1. I had a comment censored automatically (within the timeframe of the page refresh after clicking “Post Comment”) for pointing out that some comments were quite clearly misogynistic and had failed to actually read the article… It’s not the first time this has happened to me in the Hackaday comments section either.

      I guess it must be automatic based on a block-list of words?

    2. One of mine was deleted too. Some one recommended dwarfs (due to their small size) and I replied with a recommendation of young humans. But that wasn’t even intended as a “troll” post (pun intended). I thought it was a rather harmless comment. Prodigies may really be suited for certain tasks. Micro gravity may even extend life or cure symptoms of certain young individuals who suffer from certain illnesses. Also, they can’t be possibly doing worse than dogs or chimpanzees, which were sent into space not so long ago. And they don’t need to be alone up there, one or two grown-up (pun intended) people may accompany them.

    3. I’m now assuming that it’s a flagging system based on a combination of words and/or phrases that automatically prevent publication of a comment and signal to the mods that it apparently needs to be reviewed before publication – I say this because the comment of mine that I thought had been censored now appears…just rather later than I would have expected and after additional comments that I’d made since making that particular “censored” one.

  15. This article seems cherry-picked, as if a conclusion was already agreed upon, then facts sifted thru, and chosen to support it.

    * * *

    For a Mission-to-Mars, the candidate field should be open to all who can satisfy the _justifiable_ requirements of the mission. For example: Control, operation, maintenance, of the ship during the flight. Exploration, science, research, habitat construction upon landing. Medical and Psychological training as the need arises. (just to name a few). Nothing on this quick list inherently has sex attached; nor should it.

    Years back 60-Minutes had a segment on SFFD. With a lack of women firefighters, the requirements were dramatically altered (lessened), and recruitment outreach made towards women. But during training, many of the new recruits fail basic strength test. These tests weren’t concocted to exclude, but reflected the _legitimate_ needs of the job. Does the person have the upper body strength to raise a heavy ladder? Or handled a pressurized hose. Can the recruit pull a 200-pound bag of sand thru a building (to simulate rescuing an unconscious person).

    That women (and various other groups) have been excluded from employment and academia in the past is a given fact. And that has resulted in a lack of representation in certain fields. But its insanity to expect to correct such injustices, by moving folks to the front of the line. Instead, barriers to admission need to be removed, and as people progress thru the system, academic or otherwise, soon the ranks will be balanced out with those with demonstrated skill and talent. And everybody participates on an even playing field.

    * * *

    Males and Females have dramatically different reproductive systems, but have the effects of long space flights been adequately studied? Cosmic rays, weightlessness, etc.? Women get breast and uterine cancer; men, testicular and prostate cancer. Bone loss in weightless environments. Suppose any of these can be linked to long-term space-travel, then where is the threshold to preclude or include individuals based on possible future complications?

    1. in the long term if you don’t export both sexes, the possibility of a long term self sustaining colony is non existent. mars is pretty close and the possibility of regular crew rotation exists, but colonies further out the travel time really prohibits that. especially when you start setting up colonies out in the kuiper belt or oort cloud and beyond. from a research standpoint you probibly want data on both sexes and how well they do in off world colonies.

      also inclusion by exclusion is a terrible idea. you want a more equal future, not one where you are making the same mistake in reverse.

      1. In one of my old Perry Rhodan magazines from the 1960s there were robot colony chips which raised babies in a long tube. They essentially carried embryos which would be brought to life once the ship had reach a suitable planet or moon. The ship’s computer, the main positronic, would watch over the whole process. Maybe we don’t need men anymore in the future, a seed bank will do. Woman might be obsolete, too soon after, once birth machines have matured. Science (-fiction) is an interesting test bed for these things, I think.

        1. However, we already know that raising children in the absence of one or both biological parents can have devastating effects on the development of the child. If both parents are replaced by machines, what effect could this have on the child ?

  16. More people in general doing missions in space would be great also :)

    If anyone who wanted to go to space could get to space, who knows what benefits this could bring to humankind?

  17. Bigger brains can take more radiation damage and remain functional, that is a short term advantage that may be offset by a greater long term risk of cancer induced by the radiation. Cancer is a long-term risk of radiation exposure, but it does not manifest in the short term. Cognitive failure, on the other hand, can occur in the short term and can have a significant impact on the mission.

    Cognitive failure can be caused by a number of factors, including radiation exposure. Radiation can damage the brain, leading to problems with memory, learning, and decision-making. These problems can make it difficult for astronauts to perform their duties and can increase the risk of accidents.

  18. That only works if they had equal opportunity to be equally prepared and then prepared again at the next level.

    The notion that the current system is a meritocracy protects the status quo and blocks others out. I’ve met plenty of jerk face men who didn’t earn their place.

  19. To conserve resources, crews should be recruited from populations with a tolerance for high altitude and good power to weight ratio. I would consider folk from the mountains of
    Gorkha in Nepal to be perfect candidates.

    1. I think you will find similar physiques in the Andes also.

      A good part of the high altitude oxygen efficiency is meant to be adaptive though, so you’d only need a high altitude training base to keep candidates on for a year or so.

  20. Because smaller stature guys don’t exist, right?

    Anyway, human spaceflight is SO 1960s and the science return vs cost is SO bad. Send robots.

    Book: The End of Astronauts: Why Robots Are the Future of Exploration (2022)

    Years ago I saw a planetary mission lead scientist say in a TV documentary that the very best way to determine the scientific value of a space mission was to count the number of papers written based upon its findings. He said that his robotic mission had already produced many times the number of papers than had the already long-existing white elephant (my term) looking for a mission called the International Space Station. Just supporting the ISS costs NASA one nuclear powered, compact car sized Perseverance Mars rover mission every year.

    The 4.1 BILLION dollar per flight Space Shuttle jobs continuation program abortion looking for a mission called the SLS is another example of money wasted on “SPAM in a can” missions.


    Colonizing Mars means contaminating Mars – and never knowing for sure if it had its own native life – November 6, 2018

    “Given that the exploration of Mars has so far been limited to [sterilized] unmanned vehicles, the planet likely remains free from terrestrial contamination. But when Earth sends astronauts to Mars, they’ll travel with life support and energy supply systems, habitats, 3D printers, food and tools. None of these materials can be sterilized in the same ways systems associated with robotic spacecraft can. Human colonists will produce waste, try to grow food and use machines to extract water from the ground and atmosphere. Simply by living on Mars, human colonists will contaminate Mars.”

    Astrobiology Vol. 17, No. 10
    Searching for Life on Mars Before It Is Too Late
    1 Oct 2017

    “Planetary Protection policies as we conceive them today will no longer be valid as human arrival will inevitably increase the introduction of terrestrial and organic contaminants and that could jeopardize the identification of indigenous Martian life.”

    1. It is way more complex that that…

      Number of papers generated is a really pointless metric – more papers can easily mean the data is just far less conclusive, a million possible solutions match the data so a million papers may well be written. Where with really good data you get only a few potential solutions, so only a few papers trying to explain the data. Also you don’t write a new paper on the geology of Cornwall, but it is at least a paper or two if the samples are from a spot on Mars. More papers might mean something, if those papers are actually good, and even a ‘good’ paper can be pretty pointless in the grand scheme of things, especially if you won’t then allow folks to use that information for anything, the ‘you might contaminate the search for life on Mars’ type arguments make knowing this spot is full of x at the surface of no real use…

      And there are so many experiments its really tricky to make robot managed and entirely impossible to do down the gravity well… Plus sending up dedicated experiments every time could end up costing more resources than sending up the construction kit to build them on the ISS, and things like the ISS are an ongoing experiment in their own right.

      There is still a great deal a human not suffering from potentially hours of light lag and communications black outs can do even remotely through a robot that a more true autonomous robot can’t hope to (obviously setting the range from Earth there at a substantial range – but the solar system is vast and you might be interested in something on the other side of the sun so need relays etc)…

      Human exploration of space also allows for proper lab studies on samples in a timely fashion – which may well matter, as soon as you take and transport a sample you introduce the potential to change its composition and potentially it will continue to change over all that transit time, and you may never know what changed…

      1. None of your arguments waylay the fact that if humans land on Mars, they will contaminate Mars. Or any place else in the Universe, for that matter.

        Ever wondered why, if there are so many extra terrestrials visiting Earth (according tot he number of UFO sightings), none of them actually made contact?

        Because maybe they are more responsible than us, and understand that they would contaminate Earth and possibly wipe out the whole planet…?

        1. If you take the number of UFO sightings as factual definite space alien UFO then do you also take all the reported alien abduction cases the same way? In which case the alien are even less bothered about contamination than we are, taking samples, doing weird stuff to them in a very alien environment and putting them back into the wild alive?!?!?!

          You can have people on Mars, or anywhere else without any great risk of contamination if you actually really care about that – especially with the hostile environments. The people can not survive being outside of a protective sealed environment on Mars, so as long as proper steps are taken to keep the outside stuff outside and the inside stuff inside it is very comparable contamination risk to the robots, we just brought a chunk of habitable much much closer… Even now we can’t be sure there is zero contamination on Mars, best efforts are made but that is all you can say, keep making those efforts but with people closer to the action, actually able to process the samples might be the only way to prove one way or the other – the human can test a fresh sample and the sampling tools almost immediately and so more easily and confidently separate the potential contamination.

          1. All this talk about contamination ignores the fact that Ryugu has shown the very existence of life on Planet Earth is almost certainly down to contamination by meteorite. We know that Mars has witnessed meteor strikes in the past – and for that matter, so too has the Moon. So why would contamination prevent us from exploring other planets in person? The precautionary principle would indicate that we could do significant damage to any existing life forma present, or that those life forms might do significant damage to the human being explorers. It’s also possible that a symbiotic relationship might develop.

  21. Deleting well-argued viewpoints is not going to work to change people’s opinions. Contrary to popular opinion, beatings will not improve the morale. Have a nice day.

  22. If the mission doesn’t explicitly require a certain number of astronauts, couldn’t you just send fewer people? After all, the limitation is total mass (for a given cost). You don’t really need any humans to fly to Mars. If you only intend to send one person, and you want to limit costs, then yes – the lightest qualified person is who you want. And that will likely be a woman. Or is the goal to send as many humans as possible to Mars for a given amount of money? Then, an all (small) female crew would again be your best bet.

  23. The only reason why this would be such a problem is politics. Politics want an American on Mars and not, e.g., a Japanese man. Get rid of the ‘American’ from the equation, and it’s all suddenly not so bleak anymore.

  24. This won’t work because the US government/SC forces US agencies to recognize guys as being girls, and so the physical benefits are nullified.
    Plus it’s illegal to do sex discrimination isn’t it? So they can’t reject guys applying for the job for that reason too.

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