In what some deem progress and others deem a media gimmick, NASA is considering an all-women space shuttle crew.
NASA is currently awaiting the results of a study on whether more gender-specific research on the effects of weightless on the human body is necessary. NASA’s Dr. Arnauld Nicogossian said that he and colleagues will review the study’s findings early this summer, at which point “we’ll decide if it makes sense to have a mission dedicated specifically to fly women and how often we have to continue that type of mission.”
Although Nicogossian promised that such gender-specific research will not be “a one-time deal,” others, including former astronaut and current University of Virginia physicist Kathryn Thornton, are sceptical. Thornton said, “I don’t know why it would be necessary to have them [women] all on the same flight.” Thornton instead advocates adding more women to all NASA missions. The Associated Press has reported that “many” of NASA’s women are opposed to the idea of a women’s crew.
Osteoporosis researcher Millie Hughes-Fulford supports the idea of an all-female crew, if for nothing else than to gain further data on how much bone loss women experience in space, as compared to men. Since women are more susceptible to bone loss than men here on earth, she fears that NASA might use this medical fact as an excuse to exclude women from certain space endeavors. “That would probably be the biggest argument against women going to Mars,” said Hughes-Fulford.
NASA’s astronaut corps first admitted women in 1978. Currently, NASA’s 119 astronauts include 29 women.