In the modern age of gender rights and equality, it might be surprising to learn there is much disagreement over the ratio of men to women, or even the presence of women at all in a Mars bound crew.
Initially space exploration, and indeed exploration in general, was considered primarily a "man's sport." Ernest Shakelton is commonly believed to have advertised his Antarctic expedition as:
"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success." 1
|The most women ever in space at same time. Image: NASA|
Discovery also set the record for the most women in space as there was one women already on the ISS crew. As for the ISS, at any given time there is only ever one woman in the ISS crew, and it is frequently all male.
This seems to carry over, at least at first glance, into international Mars missions, as both of the long duration Mars500 crews were entirely male.
One woman served on the earlier 15 day simulation, but was not allowed to apply for the 100 or 500 day.
Why is this?
Officially the Russian Space Agency representatives said:
"There was a suitable woman... But we did not want to jeopardize the experiment with tension between the sexes. This might have happened with five men and one woman." 2While it may be understandable that 5:1 gender odds would cause conflict, I highly doubt there was only one qualified woman in all of the Russian or European space agencies who could have gone on this mission.
The answer likely lies in an earlier Mars simulation in Moscow in 2000.
This mission consisted of 2 crews. One crew was 4 Russian men. The second crew was one Japanese man, one Austrian man, one Canadian woman, and one Russian woman. Crew 1 went into simulation first, then several months later were joined by Crew 2.
What happened next is a convoluted mess of accusations, counter accusations, and diffusion of responsibility.
|Spanish cartoon of the confrontation. 3|
Over the past decade I've heard this story from several people close to the mission, read excerpts from the Canadian's account, and dozens of articles and press releases. All of the stories are contradictory.
Some articles on the situation:
What is undisputed is that a short time later the Japanese participant left the simulation, the other crew members chose to remain, and on returning to Canada the Canadian woman sued the Canadian Space Agency.
Several of the simulation managers at the Russian Space Agency blame the woman for "ruining the experiment". Others contend the problems lay in the selection committee and management for not selecting compatible crew members. Some of the crew members blame it solely on one out of control participant.
The Russians are already notorious for not having flown any female cosmonauts since the height of the Cold War. Needless to say this "disaster" from the perspective of the Russian Space Agency seems to have made them even more hesitant to allow women in international missions, and likely lead to the all male Mars500.
|MDRS Crews 86 and 87. Photo credit: Author.|
Regarding HiSEAS, the head of the program, Kim Binsted assures me that there is no preconceived ratio of male/female for this mission, and the number of men / women will only be decided once they've reviewed all of the applications.
With an international applicant pool of both men and women, we will likely see both intercultural and gender issues in the habitat.
Above all the key to our ability to work together will be open communication. In an isolated environment we cannot assume that someone "knows what we're feeling". To do so would be inviting disaster. Frank and open discussion of issues will help diffuse tensions and misunderstandings before they can develop into a more dangerous situation.
But even frank and open discussion can be difficult in international settings. Americans tend to be more willing to talk openly about issues, while some Eastern cultures consider it bad manners to "air dirty laundry in public".
Personally I find a healthy gender ratio serves as a calming influence over the crew. Missions with higher ratios of women to men had less personality conflicts in my experience, and that factor alone is incredibly valuable during long duration isolation.
What do you think? Should analog crews be split evenly 50/50? All male? All female? Some other ratio?
1 Fun fact, this famous quote is becoming controversial as no one can find direct evidence Shakelton ever ran such an advertisement. The only evidence is testimony from family and friends of expedition members. Some organizations are even offering prizes if someone can find produce a copy of the original http://www.antarctic-circle.org/advert.htm