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A geologist works at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in the Utah desert. (REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

Blast off

Could NASA cut costs by sending an all-female mission to Mars?

By WITW Staff on January 12, 2016

There is a compelling argument for sending more women into space, and it has little to do with equal gender representation. Writing for Slate, journalist and laser physicist Kate Greene describes how she took part in a NASA research project called HI-SEAS, which placed five “crewmembers” in a geodesic dome in Hawaii. The goal of the project was to study the kinds of foods that astronauts on Mars might eat but, while living in the dome, Greene also conducted a sleep study. The device that she used to track sleep data — a sensor armband from BodyMedia — also monitored daily and weekly caloric expenditure, and Greene soon noticed a trend: “Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members.” The data seemed to make sense, since Greene observed that the women ate substantially less food than men during mealtimes.

These statistics matter because the caloric requirements of an astronaut are significant to a mission. The more food an astronaut needs to maintain his or her weight, the more food needs to be launched with the spaceship. With more food on board, more fuel is required to propel the ship into orbit. In other words, sending an all-female crew into space could significantly cut costs. And seeing as a manned mission to Mars could cost about $100 billion dollars, economic considerations are of great importance.

Of course, there are many factors — aside from gender — that go into choosing crews for space missions: professional backgrounds, skills, and personalities are all taken into account. But Greene nevertheless posits that “if the bottom line is what matters in getting to Mars, the more women the better.”

Read the full story at Slate.


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