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How NASA failed women astronauts and built space travel for men

In mid-March 2019, astronauts Anne McClane and Christina Koch prepared to make a space story. Later that month, they both planned to run their first female footpath when they left the International Space Station to install new batteries in the solar array of the vessel.

But McClane never appeared outside the ISP for her remarkable outing. Instead, it was taken by the other NASA astronaut Nick Heig after it became clear that at his preferred size there was no suitman who could prepare himself in time for a walk in space.

The costumes, which were built in 1978 and have not been updated since then, were made at a time when most astronauts were men. The smallest sizes were discontinued in the 1990s, and the average is now the smallest option, of which only one suit is ready for flight to the space station. McClain practiced in a large suit and thought he would be fine until he entered the cosmos and realized that an environment would fit better. If more women were included from the start, the smaller suits could have been available.

Women astronauts seem to have never been at the top of NASA's list of priorities. But now the space agency seems eager to make up for past mistakes. Last week, NASA announced plans to put the first woman on the Moon by 2024 and provided an extra $ 1.6 billion to complete the task.

But to get the first woman on the moon, NASA will have to begin with half a century of refutation when it fails to place women in the space program. The decades of women who have watched have left the agency with a lack of data on female astronauts, which means that we do not fully understand the impact that space has on women's bodies and we have left the women who do it to fight the equipment that was built only with men.

NASA's neglect of women goes back to its foundations. The agency was set up in 1958 after Russia sent two satellites in orbit and the US wanted to advance in the space race. The first program of missions to send people to space, the Mercury project, began later that year.

At that time, President Eisenhower and the NASA leadership decided for a number of reasons that Mercury's astronauts should be chosen by military pilots. "This choice has provided the astronauts with engineering backgrounds and expertise in flying experimental aircraft, including diagnosing and resolving life-threatening flying problems," said Kevin Rusnak, a US Air Force Laboratory historian who previously worked for NASA .

The side effect of this is that women are excluded. Military did not allow women to be pilots in the first place, so there were no military pilots to even consider. "The later classes of astronauts from the Apollo program were more complicated because now men without this experience were admitted to the program," says Rusnak. Buzz Aldrin, for example, was not a pilot test, but was accepted at NASA's third astronaut admission in 1963.

Although women have now been technically authorized in the space program, they will have to fight spacecraft built for men. "It was too late to retrofit Apollo's equipment to accommodate female astronauts," Rusnak said. There was no room for a mixed crew on the Apollo spacecraft, and there was very little personal space on the spacecraft. The crew had no place to go to use the bathroom. The equipment is also not intended for female anatomy – the urine collecting and ejecting device uses a tube attached to the penis, for example.

Although urine removal systems have improved much since then, things are not entirely comfortable for women. The International Space Station's toilets are designed to recycle water from the urine but will not recycle any water if any other matter is found. This means that recycled water will not end up with traces of crap. Men are the second nature to dissolve and write separately, and men can just peek into a funnel in the toilet. However, for women, astronauts should be taught to learn to write and write individually, otherwise their water supply will decrease. It also causes problems when the time blood is switched on, and as a result most female astronauts will use contraceptive methods to suppress periods.

One result, however, is the lack of understanding of how periods are affected in space. From what we know, microgravity has little effect on the menstrual cycle, but data is missing. This is the same for other aspects of female bodies in space. In particular, we know the susceptibility to radiation that causes cancer, and the reactions of the immune system on Earth are different for women, and they can also be more problematic in space.

"Women have a higher rate of radiation sensitivity, and this is a factor that will probably limit the time spent in deep space on a mission to study," said Dorit Donovan, director of the NASA-funded Space Cosmetic Institute, professor in Space Medicine at Baylor Medical College. In 2014, Donovan was a co-author of a report summarizing most of the study on how women and men are affected differently in space. Six reports deal with behavioral, psychological, and physiological effects dating back to then as far as women go into space.

Some differences are small, such as women who report more menstrual disease, while others, such as people who are deaf, especially in the left ear, are more prolonged. There are still great gaps in our knowledge of things like reproductive health. The 2014 document called for more research, but there should be more astronauts. Of the 562 people who were in space, 58 are women.

After Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space to travel around the Earth in 1961, Valentina Tereshkova followed suit in 1963, flying in space in Russian Vostok 6. After the Russians finished recording the first man and woman in space, 19 years, while another woman, Svetlana Savitchka, does not leave the gravitational paws on Earth.

Only when the space shuttle program was conceived in the 1970s, NASA opened the door for women. This was partly a response to lobbying by a group known as Mercury 13, a group of female pilots who were subjected to the same physical tests as the first male astronauts and proved to be able to go into space as their male counterparts.

The first class of shuttle astronauts was announced in 1978 and included six women. This was a historic moment for women in space, which has finally opened doors for gender equality. Five years later, in 1983, Sally Reed went into space as NASA's first female astronaut. But the men who planned the mission were not ready for a female presence.

"NASA engineers, in their infinite wisdom, decide that female astronauts will want makeup – so they created a make-up kit," Reid said in 2002. "You can just imagine the discussions between predominantly male engineers about what they need The set included spiral storage, makeup, and even lipstick, surprisingly never reached space, and she was offered 100 pads for her one-week travel in space, by staff who had no idea how to manage the menstrual astronaut.

One of the six astronauts, Margaret Rea Siddon, flew three missions in 1985, 1991 and 1993. She wrote in her autobiography about sexism she had encountered as a female astronaut. They asked her whether she would give up being an astronaut if she met the perfect man, whether she had experienced sexual abuse.

Things have changed a lot in the years since then, but the new NASA Moon's plan suggests that the hint of symbolism can go back to the agency. NASA's announcement states its intention to land "the first woman and the next man" on the south pole of the moon – as if it excludes the possibility that the two lunar astronauts are women.

"We look forward to sharing with the country and the world, the historic moment when the first woman steps into the moon. Early missions of Artemis to the moon will likely include two astronauts, but crew makeup details are not yet determined, says a NASA spokesman. But not everyone is so sure that NASA's plan is geared to historical gender inequality.

"In itself, a goal separated from the social and national context, I think this is a good and obvious next step," said Adieen Denton, a planetary scientist at Brown University. "However, in the context, I think that the wording of their current plans, despite the likely good goal behind them, is much more valuable than exalting."

"The current wording can be easily read because NASA sends a woman and is" the same ", which I hope is not intended," she says. "Like many women working in and around space research, I would like all traditionally unrepresented groups, including women, to feel that space exploration has room for us and that we will play a crucial role in the continuation of human research. surrender. "

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