Finding the right people to go to Mars will be no easy feat. They have to be prepared for the monumental risk of never returning, they must be happy to sit in a confined spacecraft for around seven months to get there, and they need to be some of the most highly trained specialists out of any role on Earth.
But according to one study, there’s one more thing they should be – every astronaut that initially travels to Mars should be a woman.
The idea is not a new one. In the 1950s, the top brass of NASA’s Special Committee on Life Sciences made a case for female astronauts, stating that they are better suited for spaceflight in almost every way when compared to biological males, called the Lovelace Woman in Space program. Their bodies are typically smaller and lighter, requiring less oxygen and fewer calories, saving weight and resources. Their reproductive systems were thought to be more insulated from radiation (sorry men, but having testicles on the outside is not good for radioactive environments), and they are less prone to heart attacks than men. In sum, women require fewer resources, less space, and have a higher likelihood of coming back healthier to tell the tale.
Shockingly, the 1950s wasn’t known for its gender equality and only men were chosen instead, for reasons.
American women were then kept away from reaching space until Sally Ride’s famous spaceflight of 1983, despite having integral roles in all rocket launches prior.
Now, a new study has reaffirmed Dr W. Randolph Lovelace II and Brigadier General Donald Flickinger’s ideas from the 1950s by once again suggesting that it may be advantageous for astronauts to be primarily women.
The analysis looked at the estimated oxygen consumption, total energy expenditure, carbon dioxide, and heat production, and water requirements of males and females on longer spaceflight missions, to see what the optimal astronaut would look like.
It found that, for male astronauts, body size alone is more than enough to massively increase all metrics, with total energy expenditure rising by 30 percent, oxygen consumption rising by 60 percent, carbon dioxide production rising by 60 percent, and water requirements rising by 17 percent.
Female astronauts had much better metrics across the board as their body size increased, with the most impacted figures equating to a 30 percent reduction. When translated to the average stature of a male and female person in the US, they found an up to 41 percent decrease in nutritional requirements and oxygen production.
Combined with the push towards smaller Mars habitat modules, the data suggests that all-female crews could be advantageous for the first Mars landing. When the spacecraft is traveling for seven months and the only resupply stations are 264.72 million kilometers (164.5 million miles) back on Earth, every point of efficiency counts, and perhaps female astronauts could be the answer.
The study is published in Scientific Reports.