Hitting the Books: Why women make better astronauts
On February 2, 1960, Look magazine ran a cover story that asked “Should a Girl Be First in Space?” It was a sensational headline representing an audacious idea at the time. And, as we all know, the proposal fell short. In 1961, NASA sent Alan Shepard above the stratosphere, followed by dozens of other American spacemen over the next two decades. Only in 1983 did Sally Ride become America’s first woman to launch. A certain kind of person might be compelled to ask, why would anyone think a woman should be the first to space, anyway? And to this person I would say, expert medical opinion, for starters.
Women have fewer heart attacks than men, and in the 1950s and ’60s, scientists speculated that their reproductive systems were more protected from radiation from space than men’s because they are on the inside. What’s more, psychological studies suggested that women cope better than men in isolation and when deprived of sensory inputs. But there was another, possibly more compelling reason that women might outshine men as potential astronauts: basic economics. Thanks to their size, women are, on average, cheaper to launch and fly than men for the simple fact that they need less food.
I verified this firsthand. During the mission, part of my job was to collect and manage the crew’s sleep data. One device used to track sleep was a sensor armband, which, in addition to sleep data and activity logging, also estimated daily and weekly calorie expenditure.
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