A Space of One’s Own

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S1: Actually, one of the things that we get trained a lot of medical kinds of things and superglue is one of the most important elements on that space station, because the only thing that is scarier than a doctor coming at you with a needle is a pilot coming at you with the needle. Succeeding.

S2: Did you play with Legos when you were a kid?

S1: Oh, no, but I played with them a lot as a mom.

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S2: Hi. Yes, I feel the same as a dad. So I. I asked for a very specific purpose. And I just see that Lego has launched an incredible two thousand three hundred fifty four piece NASA Space Shuttle Discovery said with wait for this with a replica of the Hubble Space Telescope.

S1: Awesome. I need one

S2: now. See that? That’s what I was thinking. I mean, in the past, you always went for the Death Star with Lego, but now it seems like NASA and Lego just upped the game here.

S1: Well, I was actually I mean, Mom and I basically would buy buckets of Lego on eBay and just say, let’s build stuff. And it was always amazed at what my kid came up with. And then the day came. The day came when he wanted to build those things. And I had actually bought things like the Mars rover and things like that when he was tiny thinking maybe, maybe. But then when it actually comes down to it and you have to like follow those directions,

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S2: it is tedious.

S1: Well, it’s hard. It is definitely hard actually. On our mission, LEGO actually did an experiment, quote unquote, and they sent Legos up to the space station and it was actually a Lego space station to build.

S2: Wow. So this is the thing. So you actually have Lego pieces floating around up there?

S1: Well, that was actually the question was, if you’re going to assemble stuff, how put together does it need to be? Like those little Legos could do a lot of damage on a space station in between things. And so criminally, they came partly assembled and glued together.

S2: Goodness me. OK, now that is just beyond belief.

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S1: I’m Cady Coleman.

S2: I’m Andrew Maynard.

S1: Today on Mission Interplanetary. We’re asking, should the first human mission to Mars be an all woman crew?

S2: So is this an attempt to exclude me from going to space, Cady? Well.

S1: Yes, I have to say, we tried to think of all the criteria, and I’m pretty sure there will be British women on that crew, but.

S2: Right, OK, good. So I’m glad you weren’t just going by the accent and not that it’s true. So it’s going to be fascinating to see where this conversation goes this week.

S1: So let’s get to our weekly obsessions. I’m almost afraid to ask, but what are you obsessed about this week?

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S2: Well, this is going to get a little dark. But what I’ve been obsessing about this week is bio preservation continue. So this actually comes from a National Science Foundation project, not a project. It’s a huge program that I’m a part of in a small way where we’re looking at how you can extend the life of biological organs and tissues, which is a huge deal. You imagine you can take something like a living human heart. And instead of it just having a few hours shelf life, it’s not got a few weeks. A few months. Absolutely. So really important science. But what really got me thinking this week was actually about space and thinking. Say, you look at that, that first trip to Mars. First of all, do you pack a whole bunch of organs or parts, literally spare parts going to Mars? And this is really important because if something fails on a person, it’s really good to have some spare parts there and we need the technology to preserve them. But this is where it got really dark in my head. OK, what happens if somebody dies on that trip? Do you need a way of recycling them?

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S1: Well, OK, a little more clarity there on the recycling.

S2: So you’ve got this dead body. You’ve got a bunch of organs and a bunch of tissues. You’ve got all that skin. You’ve got the eyes. You’ve got the corner. You’ve got the heart. You’ve got the liver. You’ve got the lungs. Surely it’s a it’s a criminal waste if you just inject that into space.

S1: Well, I am actually a big fan of of being an organ donor. Right. And we do it, you know, we think about it down here because it’s a gift. You know, not everyone feels differently about it in their very own personal way. But when you’re in a place where there just isn’t enough of everything, I think certainly people should still get to volunteer or not.

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S2: Maybe it’s a really special gift. Yes. Yeah.

S1: When people are motivated to do something for space, often it accelerates the research.

S2: Right. And that’s where it gets really interesting. But as I said, it’s sort of a bit of a dark obsession. So brings lightness to this conversation. What’s your obsession been this last week?

S1: Well, I’ve been obsessed with rock stars.

S2: Oh, yes, rock stars in terms of physical rocks or rock stars in terms of amazing people or both.

S1: Well, it is actually both because it was a pretty cool week. The International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center that oversees the designation of small bodies in the solar system released a list of twenty seven asteroids that are named after African-American, Hispanic and Native American astronauts and explorers.

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S2: Isn’t that cool? So it is incredibly cool. So you were right. Rock stars in both senses at the time.

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S1: It’s true. I mean, there’s there’s a guy his name is Mark Bowie. I hope I’m saying its name correctly, but they were discovered in the in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. He’s an astronomer in Colorado. And he said, you know, it’s an honor and privilege to name these asteroids in recognition of fellow space explorers while also adding to the message of the power and value of diversity for all human endeavors.

S2: I love that. And that that begins to tie in so perfectly with this week’s theme, True Rock Stars in Space. I agree. So why don’t we get on to our guests at.

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S1: Today on Interplanetary, we’re asking, should the first crewed mission to Mars be all women

S2: are guests Tania Harrison and Mary Robinett, who while Mary Robenalt is the author of Ghost Takers, The Glamorous Histories Series and The Lady Astronaut series. And I believe Mary Robinett Calculating Stars. The First of Lady Astral Series is one of only 18 books that get the Nampula, the Hugo and the Locus Award. So pretty impressive stuff. She’s also the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, part of the award winning podcast, Writing Excuses and in addition to everything else, a full time Hugo Award winner. So welcome to the show, Mary Grubbiness. Thank you so much. Then we have Tania Harrison. Tarnya is a professional. Martien, over the past 13 years, she’s worked as a planetary geologist and a mission operations on multiple NASA Mars missions. She’s currently the director of science strategy for the federal arm of Planets Labs. And you can find her on Twitter as at Tarnya of Mars. Welcome to the program.

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S1: Thanks so much. So I am going to start off our discussion with a little bit of a whimsical start. Let’s pretend that I’m the NASA administrator and I’m naming the first crew for Mars. And of course, this is the most important mission that we have ever had, you know, in human time. And so it’s important that we pick exactly the right people that are best for the job and for me in charge of picking that, I feel I’ve done my best. So I came up with a list of, I think, great choices. Now, of course, we’re going to start with a test pilot. That would be Jasmyn McFeeley. And then we have Jessica Watkins, who’s a geologist of great renown. Now we need a few aerospace engineers. Those will be Ginnette apps and Jenny Sity Gibbons’ from Canada and finishing off with geo biologists because we still don’t know what we’re going to find there. And that is Zena Kargman. So, Tanya, Mary Robinett, you’ve heard the crew. What’s right about this crew and what’s wrong about this crew and how does it feel?

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S3: Well, I don’t hear anything wrong with the crew. It sounds amazing. I’m familiar with all of their biographies. They’re incredibly skilled, talented candidates. I think that that would be a phenomenal crew.

S4: Yeah. Everyone you’ve listed is perfect for the jobs that we need for a crude mission to Mars.

S1: I was worried that people would catch on, that, you know, basically there was something that they all had in common.

S2: You know, I’m sitting here being really quiet, Katie, because, you know, I have no place in this conversation.

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S1: Obviously, you always have a place in this conversation, but

S2: just not on the first crew to Mars. Yes, of course. The thing here, of course, is that this is an all women crew. And of course, Katie, you would choose an old woman crew because you’re a woman astronaut and you know what a fabulous crew this would be. But it raises the question, is this a good idea? Should we be sending all women crews out to Mars? Yeah, so

S3: so to this point, I think one of the things for me about hearing it is that it is it is really empowering, even even as a make believe to imagine an all women crew. And we have seen so many all male crews like why why should an all woman crew be worthy of comment like that? That is the question for me. It’s that it’s not whether or not these these women would be qualified because of course they would be. But why is it worthy of comment if that’s the way the crew breakdown happened to land?

S2: Isn’t isn’t that such an interesting point? Because it hadn’t even struck me with such force before. You said that because, of course, we do talk about is this a good idea? Is it a bad idea? What are the pros and cons? But we never have that conversation about all the other all male crews that have gone out. Why are we even having this conversation?

S3: Because it’s 20, 21, and we still launch all male crews. We’ve never had an all woman crew ever. We’ve never even had a crew where the women outnumber the men.

S4: I think it’s hugely important because it would demonstrate that women are just as capable, if not more capable than men. And it shouldn’t be something that’s questioned because we’ve had so many all male crews. It shouldn’t matter what the breakdown is. No one should have a second thought as to, oh, this is going to be all women on this mission because we would never question it maybe 10, 15 years ago, even if the crew was all men.

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S1: I mean, it’s I’m actually torn and torn between I mean, certainly if you picked the people that were really essentially the people and often there’s a narrower choice than you would think of who’s got the skills that time in their career. They’re ready. You know, all those kinds of. Things, but there is also the value of having people really talk about the all female crew having it be something that’s really noticeable. And because I and Mary Robinett, I think about this in your books, I mean, one of the reasons I value your books is because they tell these stories of a future that’s fascinating. And even when I am rereading them, I cannot put them down, by the way. But because I really want to hear the stories of these and I want to see myself in those stories and I want to see so many others and I do. And so there’s value in the spectacle itself of the fact that it would be all women.

S3: I think you’re you’re right. I don’t think that the the spectacle is worth any, you know, any sacrifices. And and the thing for me is that it wouldn’t be you wouldn’t need to have a sacrifice because the women are so qualified. But every time I hear them talking about the Artemis mission to Mars, to the moon, excuse me, and they talk about the next man and and the first woman and I always think but y you know, I understand why it is important to to to make a, you know, draw a line in the sand and make a mistake, say we’re going to write this historical imbalance and commit to sending a woman to the moon. But why is the guy guaranteed a seat. Right.

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S2: And it still seems to be a very, very top heavy, gender biased conversation. I’m not even sure how to approach this because it’s uncomfortable territory for me. But you see so much written about all female teams going into space and justifying it because of either physiology or psychology. People still write about an all female team being less resource intensive, being lighter, being able to multitask. And it fits uncomfortably with me because it does seem to play into stereotypes. But is there something to this?

S4: I mean, some of it is a little bit stereotypical. You know, not all women fit into a specific mold, but it is there are genetic factors to this. The fact that women will use less food, for example, or there are studies that show that women might be less prone to radiation damage to their DNA in space. Men have been shown to be more prone to some of the physical effects, like the swelling of the eyes in space than women. And we don’t necessarily know why these are the case. But this has been pretty well documented at this point, although there are still some biases in these studies because we have so many men that have gone and so few women to have statistical analysis to compare these to each other.

S3: And I want to say that there’s there’s a difference between a stereotype and an average. Like on average, there is actual data that women do consume fewer things. That’s not a stereotype. The stereotype is women are less ambitious, that women are more conflict averse, that we’re better co-operators. Those are stereotypes. Right. And while there’s a certain amount of truth to the fact that societal pressures push that kind of socialization on women, it is not it is it is not a universal truth that you meet any fighter pilot and like test pilots, you just test pilots

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S4: or at any one time. Anyone applying to be an astronaut is obviously extremely ambitious because they think it’s something they can achieve. So you’re already sub selecting in the process of finding people that want to be astronauts, a whole subset of people that are not average looking at the rest of society, because most people, if you just walk out on the street, regardless of gender, probably are going to say they either don’t want to go to space or they don’t think that they’re physically or mentally capable of being an astronaut. So you’ve already you know, you’re not looking at the averages here at all.

S2: Right. Right.

S1: Well, and I think they’ve made a decided effort. You know, they I mean, the population of the earth is closer to 50 50. And that’s going to be the the gender, you know, split in the in the astronaut corps. Although in recent years we’ve really seen a revolution in the way gender is popularly understood and the movement to recognize trans persons rights, I mean, it’s all I mean, gender just it’s not a binary thing. And the lines are blurred, which I rejoice in because it’s not really a I mean, it’s just not something that I don’t know we think about when we’re when we’re up there. And so I really love the fact that these lines are blurred. And I think it’ll be actually quite hard to even say what would be the definition of an all woman crew.

S3: Yeah, I’m so glad you brought that up, because that was one of the things that I wanted to talk about, was that we do talk about space in terms of binary a begin because of the societal pressures that there’s almost certainly been an astronaut who’s gone up who’s not binary, but they wouldn’t. Out about that,

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S2: right, and I actually this is a really interesting question, I was going to say should it matter? But of course it might matter if you’re looking to see people that are like you going off into space for sure.

S4: And I think this is where you can have a more holistic discussion of what the crew, the first crew to Mars should be. You can take away that binary. Maybe the crew just shouldn’t be all six white men or there should be six white men on the crew. Let’s take everybody else that has not had a chance to be well represented in space exploration. Send those people to Mars and say we’re doing this differently. We’re doing this better. This time we’re going to make sure that the humans we send to Mars represent everybody.

S2: So I sort of stepping back a little bit. And let me ask you this, Tanya, as a professional Martian in the virtual room here, say we do get to the point where the first all female team going up to speak up to space is announced. How do you feel about it? Are you excited? Do you think that this is just a fuss about nothing? Where does this leave you?

S4: I it makes me personally really excited, and I think it will make a lot of other people excited. And actually, we just had an event where this was demonstrated really nicely. So on Monday, the UAE, their first mission to Mars, called Hope, successfully entered Mars orbit. And the government was publicizing that 80 percent of the science team of that mission are women. And I tweeted about that and that tweet went crazy. So many people were excited to see that. And there are some people that reply with either sexist or racist remarks, which tends to happen. But in general, the response was overwhelmingly positive. And so I think that as much as as we were saying earlier, like this shouldn’t be something that has to be a spectacle. It will be. And it will make a really strong political statement to say, like we’re finally acknowledging that there are things that everybody can do, like you don’t have to be a man to do this. And having especially if a government does it, I think it would be even stronger. I’m less positive that, you know, a commercial company would do the right thing, so to speak. They would maybe just go with who has the most money. But one can hope

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S3: when I saw that tweet from Tanya. Yeah. I was so excited about that. I had no idea. And and it’s so unusual in the US, I think it’s something like twenty six percent of the the people working at NASA are women.

S4: Yeah. At least in the Mars program like twenty six.

S3: Yeah. When they announced their honors recently, out of the 40 people honored, only two were women.

S1: I think you know the fact that I met Sally Ride, Dr. Sally Ride first American woman astronaut and that really I saw someone that really I could could resonate with and just think, well, maybe I could try to do that. That was certainly a help along the way. But there are some roadblocks that I think we’re learning to be to to address. And some of that is about equipment. And Mary Robinett and I have talked a lot about this, about I mean, we need a space suit that fits Tony Harrison.

S4: Yeah. I can’t apply to be an astronaut because I’m too small.

S2: The irony of this, we’ve already talked about what a boon it is being small, but you can’t get in.

S3: Yeah. So I’m going to use a puppetry example. Bear with me for that. I’m also a professional puppeteer as a side thing.

S2: I forgot that on the bio.

S3: It’s OK. So so the majority of puppeteers in television are Weitman. And you look at you look at the Muppets and you think, wow, what a diverse cast. You know, there’s there’s a frog and a pig and a bear and whatever Gonzo is. But then you go below below the frame and it’s it’s all men. Miss Piggy was named Woman of the Year. She’s performed by a guy. She was originated by Frank Oz. And the reason is that Jim Henson, when he started out, is six foot two. And so he built sets that were comfortable for him. And then when people came in to audition, the people who did best at the auditions were people who fit into the sets, who could get the puppet up into the frame. And he didn’t plan to have this this heavily dominated male cast, but he did. And then once you’ve got people trained to do video puppetry, which is super specific skill set, it’s much easier to go back to the same pool than it is to bring somebody new in. And when you do bring somebody new and they don’t look as good as the other people because they haven’t had as much experience. So there’s this huge cyclic thing that’s happening with, I think, one or two exceptions. Every woman who is performing in video puppetry, any time there’s a standing set where the puppeteers are actually on their feet, they’re wearing clogs that are between two to five inches. Actually, I know I’ve I know someone who’s performed with with one foot clogs in order to do this, just to fit into a space that is literally designed for men. And no one thinks about it. And that’s the same thing that happens, like why Tanya is not able to go up because because it’s you know, that size was defined around. A different body type

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S2: suit, so to bring this back to you said a couple of times that it’s important to have the people who are best qualified for the job irrespective of gender going up into space. But it’s the whole system has been built around a certain physiology, like you explained and described with puppetry. Maybe Robinett, how do you overcome those inbuilt biases in the system where even if you are technically qualified, you just don’t fit the mold?

S4: It’s a time when we can actually reanalysed the design of everything. And right up until now, everything we’ve been using in space has been kind of this heritage. Like space suits are really old and they haven’t tried to redesign them. Yeah, Legree’s, these things keep you alive in space like 40 years old. But now we have a chance to sit down and design with more people in mind, which also means that those people need to be at the table when the designs are being made in the first place, because I’m sure that a man who is maybe short for a man like five, six, five, seven still can’t relate to what it’s like to being barely five feet tall. And, you know, you don’t function the same way in the world. You certainly won’t function the same way in space or on Mars. And thinking about that, and this is actually come up, there’s a relatively new group called Sensorially that’s been doing all female analog astronaut missions. They did, I think, two or three at high seas so far in Hawaii. And one of the things that they brought up was we could tell this habitat was not designed with people with smaller frames in mind. And it was just the littlest things like, oh, these cabinets were a little bit too high or the bathroom was definitely not designed for women to use it in mind. And it’s something that just doesn’t occur to people that don’t think about that or experience that on a daily basis

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S1: mean I find these that these barriers to be fascinating in that if you think about a podium, I mean, podiums are designed for the average

S4: height of they always go up to my nose

S1: at the inauguration. I don’t know if you noticed that. You know, basically somebody went and put a put it before Amanda Gorman spoke. They put a little step there. I had a little step for operating the robotic arm. I mean, if you never see people operating in the realm that you understand or speaking out, then it’s hard to see them. And so arriving at this all woman crew is is a is a process that I think that we are you know, we’re coming along and that I think it’s easier and easier for leaders to to hear and to realize, especially because you can make the argument that mixed crews do better actually than I have to say, than single sex crews, which I will assume I’m sure the data is small for all women crews, but that crews of men and women actually perform better companies that have those mixes as long as you’ve created an atmosphere that really welcomes a diverse crew.

S2: And I think that that’s the point that we’ve come back to with this this conversation, which I found absolutely fascinating, that more than anything, we need those impetuses to think differently about what it means to be in space and what to open up space. So we’re not constrained by our very implicit biases for how we’ve designed these habitats and these ideas in these processes in the past. Maybe. Robinett Tanya, thank you so much for such an illuminating and fascinating conversation.

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S4: Thanks so much.

S3: Yeah, thanks for having us.

S1: It was awesome.

S2: So most of us have been to space. I have, yeah, I know you have, but most of us only experience space through the photos and videos we see.

S1: So we’re used to seeing what space looks like. But what does space sound like

S2: on mission interplanetary? We can’t show you pictures,

S1: cached audio format.

S2: Instead, you’ll hear what space sounds

S1: like in a segment we call Sounds of Space. OK, Andrew, what do you think that was?

S2: Goodness me, so listening to that through headphones that the Sonics were amazing and it took me straight back to those sci fi movies where you see these mega ships in space with a deep turn on the burners behind, and that the sound of that is just reverberating almost at subsonic levels throughout the ship. So that was my emotional response. I just put myself one of those kilometers long, massive ships with the deep end going on. I suspect it’s not anything quite as far out as that.

S1: It was something to make my cat run away. I’m just going to say that.

S2: But that makes me wonder whether it’s earthbound to me. It definitely felt like you’re on some space faring ship or something. And the some there are some burners going on somewhere that sounds like some sort of space engine going. Am I totally out with that?

S1: It’s a pretty big engine. That was a Mars quake. Wow.

S2: I was nothing like I was expecting it.

S1: Isn’t that amazing? Because. Incredible. So it was recorded by a seismometer aboard NASA’s Incyte Lander on Mars. And that was actually the seismic vibrations of Mars waves from the planet’s internal activity. The waves are too low for humans to hear, so the recording is actually sped up to bring it within the range that we can hear.

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S2: OK, right. But there’s still a lot of that low frequency stuff there. I mean, that’s the sort of sound I could sit here with my headphones on and zone out and listen to it for a long time.

S1: Isn’t that cool, though? I mean, it’s incredibly cool an instrument to Mars. And I mean, it’s hearing things that even we couldn’t hear and then find a way to have it really to us.

S2: Right. But it also shows us the planet is alive and not alive in the real sense. But there’s movement there. There’s activity

S1: there. I mean, the more and more we learn, it’s just seems like such an alive place and looking forward to going. Let’s listen to that again.

S2: That’s it for this week. Thank you so much for joining us.

S1: It was so much fun and I thought about you, Andrew, but I am ready to sign up for Mars. Mission Interplanetary is produced by Lance Gherardi, our sound designer and engineer is Stephen Christensen, and our music was composed by Mario Indicus.

S2: Remember to subscribe to our podcast Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, leave us a review. Please do. Incredibly important to recommend us to your friends, your family, your pets, anyone you can grab. And if you’ve got any questions, just email us at interplanetary podcast. At a rescue

S1: mission. Interplanetary is a production of Arizona State University’s interplanetary initiative, and Slate

S2: will be back next week asking them big questions about space exploration and

S1: future interplanetary.

S2: We’ll see you there.