So far 12 astronauts have walked on the moon, all American and all male. It is likely that the next moon landing in 2024, or the one after, will include a woman. That means NASA has some work ahead to adapt systems previously developed just for men.
This very topic was discussed at the sixth meeting of the US National Space Council (NSC) at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.
This was a top level event and was chaired by US Vice President Mike Pence.
A White House statement said this event would address a whole-of-government effort for deep space exploration, prospective co-operation with international partners and strengthening of US commercial space leadership.
Discussion on women in space was conducted by a panel led by Saralyn Mark, president of iGIANT and SolaMed Solutions, which considered how NASA could handle increasing inclusion of women and overall diversity in future crewed flights.
After all, NASA’s moon program has been named Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon and twin sister to Apollo, the name of the program that took the first men to the moon.
Mark said this was more than about spacesuits not fitting female astronauts.
That’s certainly an issue as the first all-female space walk, planned for March from the International Space Station and involving astronauts and Anne McClain and Christina Koch, was cancelled because of insufficient properly fitting space suits.
"We see the impact from the shoes and clothing we wear, the electronic devices we use, the cars we drive in and even the medications we take. Modifying appearances, or the 'pink it, shrink it' approach for gendered innovation, will never work in any environment including space, battlefields, hot zones and in our homes," Mark told the conference, according to a report on Space.
Mark said males and females adapted to space differently and even small differences significantly impacted the quality and safety of life, including astronaut work performance.
“It is imperative that NASA and its commercial space partners address these differences and how they plan and conduct missions, how they develop products such as spacesuits, high-performance clothing including liquid cooling and ventilation garments, tools, hardware and machine-human interfaces," she said.
Some studies have indicated that male astronauts suffer more severe symptoms of spaceflight associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS). Female astronauts are more susceptible to radiation-induced cancer, requiring lowers permissible radiation exposure limits.
Currently, there are no studies that have explored the effects of human spaceflight on intersex or transgender people.
"I want to believe that the next boots on the lunar surface will be worn by a woman and not only will they fit her, but they will also inspire the next generation of explorers," she said.
Vice President Pence was on board.
“… it's imperative that NASA and our private sector partners lean in clear-eyed and account for the unique differences and challenges that men and women face in space exploration. And I pledge to you that we will do just that,” he said.
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