On Wednesday, six female scientists, aged 22 to 34, boarded an experimental capsule at Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems. For eight days, the scientists will live together as though they were on the International Space Station (ISS). Russian news agency TASS reports:
Their eight-day unpaid Moon 2015 mission confronts them with 30 experiments aboard a mock-up environment of six cabins, kitchen, bathroom and gym akin to life on the International Space Station ISS. It's the latest in a lengthy series of tests carried out by institute specialists studying the effects on human physiology and emotions during life among the stars.
Scientists are particularly interested in how a crew of women might interact in space. Phys.org reports that 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."
Ponomaryov continued, "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."
Russia has sent only four women to space, so Ponomaryov's words seem right and laudable. Space travel should be more open to women, and there might be value in seeing if an all-female crew behaves differently than an all-male or mixed crew. This is not a necessarily sexist inquiry. But it goes downhill from here.
Institute director Igor Ushakov said, per Phys.org, that "it will be particularly interesting in terms of psychology," adding, "they say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together." Hm. Highly-trained scientists are not housewives!
During a press conference prior to the start of the ground mission, the crew members answered questions on their mission. Questions like: How will you deal with being without makeup for eight days? How will you cope with not being around men? These are very bad questions.
The women, however, handled both with grace. "We are doing work. When you're doing your work, you don't think about men and women," said Anna Kussmaul. Plus, said Darya Komissarova, "We are very beautiful without makeup." Well played.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.