On Wednesday, six Russian women began an eight-day experiment onboard a mock spacecraft to examine how an all-female crew fare with the physical, social and psychological strain of long-haul spaceflight.
The team will perform 10 scientific experiments to simulate the pressure of working on a spaceflight to the Moon and back. They will also have 1.5 hours per day of free time, where they can watch films, read and socialize.
The women, aged between 22 to 34, are Yelena Luchitskaya, Darya Komissarova, Polina Kuznetsova, Anna Kussmaul, Inna Nosikova, and Tatyana Shiguyeva – all of whom have expertise in medicine, biophysics or psychology.
The women will be let out next Thursday. For now, however, the participants will be in a wood-lined spacecraft that's equipped with cameras and will be under constant observation from scientists and doctors.
Experiment supervisor Sergei Ponomaryov explained, “Such a crew is taking part for the first time in a simulation experiment. It’s interesting for us to see what is special about the way a female crew communicates.”
Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian cosmonaut, was the first woman into space in 1963, just two years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Since then, 40 women – from a range of countries – have been to space.
Ponomaryov added, “There’s never been an all-female crew on the ISS. We consider the future of space belongs equally to men and women and unfortunately we need to catch up a bit after a period when unfortunately there haven’t been too many women in space.”
However, if you thought extremely intelligent and highly trained women were free from sexism, you’re wrong.
Institute Director Igor Ushakov said, “It will be particularly interesting in terms of psychology. They say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together.”
The press conference before the start of the mission also featured questions like, “How will you deal with being without makeup for eight days?” and “How will you cope with not being around men?”
“We are very beautiful without makeup,” Darya Komissarova responded to the first question. While her colleague, Anna Kussmaul, said: “We are doing work. When you're doing your work, you don't think about men and women.”
This isn’t the first time the issue of sexism in space has been raised. Yelena Serova, the first Russian woman onboard the International Space Station, complained about the media bombarding her with superficial questions because of her gender, such as if she’s worried how she’ll wash her hair onboard the ISS