On June 3rd, six volunteers were locked inside a mock space capsule to endure a 17 month simulation of a mission to Mars, called the Mars500. This will be the longest of these types of trials; during the simulation, an all-male crew is expected to perform operations required to complete a round-trip Mars mission. In addition, they must maintain relative physical and mental health in an isolate, confined environment. Scientists hope to gain perspective on the psychological stresses and effects an actual long-term space mission would have on its crew.
While such a lengthy test will provide useful data to psychologists and space scientists alike, it also seems to be a preliminary gesture towards a future of deep-space travel that is dominated entirely by men.
Women were excluded due to “tension between the sexes.”An organizer of the simulation alluded to to a previous co-ed experiment, in which a Russian volunteer attempted to kiss his female associate at a New Year’s Eve party. As a result, a highly qualified, female cosmonaut was not allowed to participate in the experiment.
Similar fears of inappropriate sexual interaction have been used to prevent women from accompanying their male counterparts in other situations for generations. Women have been considered a distracting element, to the point that even their presence jeopardizes the success of a particular endeavor.
An all-woman crew was considered to be unfeasible due to the fact that, according to the organizers, out of 5,600 applicants only one woman was qualified for the job. Though, considering that the discrimination was brought about through the actions of a man, it is a wonder that men aren’t considered unfit for such experiments due to their disqualifying inability to contain their sexual impulses. Ideally, though, one should hope that equal opportunity be given to members of both genders.
This segregation will deprive scientists of any further data on co-ed experiments of this type, thus rendering future real life co-ed missions improbable, if not altogether impossible.
I can’t help but be reminded of the hackneyed but somehow lovable way in which Star Trek: The Next Generation made commentary on social issues, in this case through the introduction of a greedy, swindling, misogynistic race called the Ferengi, who are shocked to learn that members of Starfleet work alongside their females.
Indeed, in the context of many Utopian science fiction tales, the future human race is often portrayed as one that has reached some type of social maturity, and has out-grown its former preoccupation with delineating differences between gender, race, nationality or religion. It is unfortunate that, at present, our rate of technological growth far surpasses that of our social progress.