The first woman in space was Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, back in 1963. Since then, Russia has fallen somewhat behind other countries in gender equality; it’s sent only four female cosmonauts into space in the last five decades, compared to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s 49 women in space.
To make up for lost time, the country is now embarking on a new experiment. Yesterday (Oct. 28), six Russian women locked themselves in a suite at Moscow’s Institute of Biomedical Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences for the start of an eight-day experiment simulating the conditions of a space mission.
The point? To test women’s aptitude for space flight and to prepare for a potential all-female journey to the moon in 2029.
“We consider the future of space belongs equally to men and women and unfortunately we need to catch up a bit after a period when unfortunately there haven’t been too many women in space,” explained project director Sergei Ponomarev in a press conference.
Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, said the spacecraft for this crew is currently under construction and will be tested in unmanned flight in 2021, before the 2029 mission. The women in the simulation experiment, all of whom have backgrounds in medicine or biophysics and were carefully selected from a rigorous pool, are being tested on how well they work together, as well as their ability to perform several dozen scientific experiments.
After the announcement, Russian media bombarded the prospective astronauts with questions like how they will wash their hair, do their makeup, and survive without men. “We are doing work. When you’re doing your work, you don’t think about men and women,” participant Anna Kussmaul reportedly countered.
Igor Ushakov, director of the Institute of Biomedical Problems, has nonetheless made some unusual comments on the initiative, noting: “They say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together.”