The 1960 issue of Look that ran the cover story "Should A Girl Be First In Space?"

Last week, Kate Greene wrote about her experience taking part in a NASA-funded research project, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, also dubbed HI-SEAS. The project gave Greene and five other crew members an experience of what it would be like to live on the surface of Mars as astronauts.

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The crew was made up of Greene (a white female from Kansas), a Belgian man, a Canadian man, a Russian-American man, a Puerto Rican woman, and a black woman who grew up in the northeast. They were in a geodesic dome on the side of the Maua Loa volcano in Hawaii, a super red and rocky Mars-like terrain.

It was a diverse group of people, and overall it proved that women are a better fit for long astronaut missions to places such as Mars. In the 1950s and 1960s, some research seemed to show that female bodies have stronger hearts and are able to tolerate vibrations and radiation exposure better than men. It also appeared that psychologically, women could better stand isolation and sensory deprivation. These studies may have been limited in their sample size, but the mission that Greene embarked on helped prove that economically, women are a better choice for these missions.

 

Beyond the fact that women are usually smaller than men in size and weight, they also don’t need to consume as much food. During the HI-SEAS mission, the three lady crew members used less than half the calories of the dude crew members. WOAH! It wasn’t a difference in exercise because all the members worked out for at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week. It was just the way the female body used the energy that differed. The men burned an average of 3,450 calories while the women only used 1,475.

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The fact that the women did not need to consume as much food means that on a space mission, less food would need to be launched, which would mean less weight, which would mean less fuel.

A former systems analyst in advanced life support and contractor with NASA, Alan Drysdale said, “Small women haven’t been demonstrated to be appreciably dumber than big women or men, so there’s no reason to choose larger people for a flight crew when it’s brain power you want. The logical thing to do is to fly small women.” 

 

The other major thing to consider is that diversity on a flight crew is probably more beneficial. Greene interviewed Soyeon Yi, South Korea’s first and only astronaut to fly to the International Space Station in 2008, and she spoke of the experience.

"At first it’s hell, but in the long term, diversity is very good. It’s because uniform people in a team may be comfortable, but they can’t know what they don’t know.”

To read more about this project you can visit Slate, and Greene's accounts on Discovery and The Economist 

Photos via Slate and polyboggimous

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