Friday, December 2, 2022

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NASA had a blind spot for women: ‘It was kind of a boys’ club’

Last week, Nicole Aunapu Mann became the first Native American woman to travel to space. While this is a big step forward in terms of representation in the space industry, it comes 20 years after the first Native American received the same honor.

Despite 60 years of women’s space travel internationally, only 12% of the approximately 600 people who have been to space have been women, and many of the obstacles these women have faced have been in the space agencies themselves. same.

Karen Nyberg, retired NASA astronaut, artist and engineer, became the 50th woman in space in 2008. Speaking to Pleasemynewsshe recalled her experiences leading up to that first spaceflight.

“Starting in engineering in college, I was one of the few women,” she said. “Nobody told me I couldn’t do it.” It wasn’t until she started working for NASA and received her first spacesuit that she began to experience some kind of disability.

“They came in sizes medium, large, and extra large,” she said. “They made a conscious decision not to build a spacesuit size small, and most women would wear size small…And that really stopped a lot of people from doing spacewalks. Not because that women weren’t able to, but because the spacesuit didn’t fit them properly… No one made this concerted effort to try and get a spacesuit suitable for short people.

“I think with the whole spacewalk suit, it was kind of a boys’ club.”

Undeterred by this wardrobe issue, Nyberg and her female colleagues persevered. “Most women got over that and went on spacewalks anyway, but it was a struggle. If the spacesuit fits you, you can reach out and do your job, but if it doesn’t the case…you can’t get a full reach.”

NASA recently unveiled next-generation spacesuits that fit a wider range of body types, including women, and we hope the suits will make space travel more accessible to a wider range of people.

“You see a lot of representation at NASA,” Nyberg said. “It’s really more of a meritocracy where people have earned their positions, where women have earned their positions.”

NASA’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy reflects this. “NASA Headquarters has an unwavering commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment where employees are valued for their unique contributions to our common purpose,” he said in a statement.

Nyberg’s next hurdle was one that affected the careers of many women in almost every profession. “My next only hurdle came when I got pregnant,” she said. “It’s a hurdle that many women face in many careers, especially active careers. There are workouts that you physically can’t do when you’re pregnant.”

She continued: “I was assigned to my second space shuttle flight when I got pregnant, and I was going to have the baby a few months before the flight. Well, they decided to take me off the flight. They don’t just didn’t want that risk…Now obviously that would never happen to a man who was going to have a baby.”

Pregnancy isn’t the only biological condition that can make things more difficult for female astronauts. “On the space station, we have the restrooms on the US segment and the restrooms on the Russian segment,” Nyberg said.

She continued: “Urine on the US segment is processed – it actually turns into drinking water – and the filtration system and machinery it passes through cannot accept blood particles. When a woman has her period, she has to go use the restroom in the Russian segment…so it’s not necessarily a private thing.”

Thanks to advances in health care, many women are able to control this cyclical setback. ” I deleted [my menstrual cycle] so I never had that in the six months I was in space,” she said. “But there are women who choose not to or can’t for a medical reason.”

Even without periods of worry, simple daily tasks can be more difficult in space. “It takes longer to go to the bathroom when you’re in space than on Earth, because there are just more steps to go through and sometimes a mess to clean up. It’s hard to stay clean in general because you don’t can’t stand under running water,” Nyberg said.

In 2013, she posted a now-famous video of how she washed her hair in space, and it has been viewed almost 6 million times.

“I’ve had people say, ‘Women should shave their heads, women should have short hair’, all that stuff,” she said. “They have no idea what it is in space. I had one of my teammates who shaved his head. He used more water, more soap, razors, which are consumables, and made a mess on the ceiling because he shaved his head every day.”

Although female astronauts still face some obstacles, the industry has come a long way since the first women went into space. One of the most important aspects in this regard is representation.

“A lot of people talk about representation and see themselves in others,” Nyberg said. “When I first decided to be an astronaut, I was 8 or 9 years old, around the same time that NASA first selected these female astronauts. I think it was huge to seeing these women because it never occurred to me that I couldn’t.”

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