The first person on Mars 'should be a woman'

From BBC - April 16, 2018

A senior Nasa engineer has said the first person to set foot on Mars should be a woman.

Allison McIntyre, who puts prospective space travellers through their paces at Johnson Space Center in Houston, noted that all 12 people who have walked on the Moon were men.

She believes women should be at the forefront if and when the agency sends its first human missions to Mars.

BBC Radio 5 live has been behind the scenes at Nasa in Texas and Florida.

They have been meeting women at the forefront of the 21st century space race.

It's more than half a century since Russia sent the first woman into space, and 40 years since Nasa selected its first female astronaut.

But there still has not been a woman on the Moon, and women remain under represented in science and engineering industries on both sides of the Atlantic.

Allison has an incredible view from her office window - on to the floor of the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This huge building is packed with full-size versions of International Space Station (ISS) modules and other spacecraft, where astronauts train before going into space.

Allison is in charge of the facility: "I love it. They are going to have to take me out of here kicking and screaming when it's time for me to do something else."

She's been with Nasa for nearly 30 years and has seen huge changes in that time: "My centre director is a woman, my former division chief is a woman, we have female astronauts, but we have not put a woman on the Moon yet, and I think the first person on Mars should be a woman."

Nasa astronaut Karen Nyberg has already spent more than six months in space aboard the ISS.

"When I was selected as an astronaut in 2000, I thought that might be a realistic possibility that we would be the next to go to the Moon, so it's unfortunate we were not."

On the prospect of women walking on the Moon, Karen said: "It will happen. There's a lot of politics, money is needed, so it's really hard to see it not go faster. Eventually it will happen."

President Trump has spoken of his desire to see American astronauts return to the Moon, a shift from Barack Obama's focus on Mars.

Kavya Manyapu is among those hoping to follow in Karen's footsteps, having spent most of her life dreaming of becoming an astronaut.

She's currently working at Johnson, where her employer Boeing is developing a spacecraft for Nasa to ferry astronauts to the ISS.

"There have been times [during my studies] when I have been the only female engineer among 70 men. That did not strike me until I had to use the bathroom and there was a long line in the men's restroom and I was the only one using the women's.

"It would be awesome and inspiring, to have a woman take the first steps on Mars... and I do not mind volunteering for that!"

Flight director Emily Nelson agrees that the failure to put a woman on the Moon is as much a reflection of changing priorities within the space industry: "We have not seen anybody on the Moon for a while!"


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