Why we need more women in space - Dianne McGrath (Inspirational Speaker)

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Why we need more women in space - Dianne McGrath (Inspirational Speaker) - 04 January 2017

Why we need more women in space - Dianne McGrath (Inspirational Speaker)

Dianne McGrath is on a mission to be part of the first human settlement on Mars and is one of only 100 remaining candidates from the 202,586 initial applicants. This makes for a great story, but there is so much more to Dianne. As a presenter with over 20 years’ experience, she is a leading authority on sustainability and her presentations are both inspirational and fascinating.

Take the opportunity to see Dianne in action at our Women in Leadership / Women in Business Event, Melbourne, 20th February. Book here: http://www.icmi.com.au/women-in-leadership

In this blog, the Inspirational Speaker shares her thoughts, experience, and expertise into why it is crucial that more women venture into space exploration.

The dawn of a new era of space exploration

More than four decades have passed since man first stepped on the moon, which provided a stimulus for more people to undertake higher academic pursuits than ever before, particularly in the sciences. 

Since then humanity has spent the last few decades within Low Earth Orbit learning more about our own planet, space, science, the human body, ourselves, and developing technologies that have provided endless benefits to our lives. MIR, Skylab, the shuttle program, the International Space Station - all expressions of our desires to understand and to explore our curiosity.

And we are hungry for more

The human spirit has been enquiring since prehistoric times. Once we start to understand, we realise that we know even less, and consequently seek more answers. Now we are looking for answers beyond the safety of our own orbit. This is a quest of humanity - the exploration of our solar system. The next target is Mars - for NASA, ESA, JAXA, the Chinese space agency, ROSCOSMOS, SpaceX, and of course, Mars One, the organisation that I am an astronaut candidate with. 

What is the origin of life on Earth? What is our place in the universe? These are questions for all men and women. And both men and women will need to seek the answers together.

Yet no woman has been beyond Low Earth Orbit. No woman has been to the moon. Of the 530+ people who have been to space, only just over 10% have been women. This is less than the proportion of top executives globally that are women (approx 14%), and nearly half the proportion of Australians with higher STEM education who are women (19%).

Does it matter that so few women have been to space?

Dr. Rebecca Spyke Keiser, Special Assistant to the NASA Administrator for Innovation and Public-Private Partnerships, thinks so. Dr. Keiser says that "there are differences in women's and men's biochemistry". And if we want to send more women to space in the future, we need to have more women in space today so that we have sufficient data to understand the impacts of space on a woman's body.

Women are physiologically different to men, and this will undoubtedly be reflected in how a woman might respond to microgravity, cosmic and solar radiation, and isolation. From the limited data to date, this is what we know:

- Bone demineralisation in space may be faster in women than men
- Radiation-induced cancer may be more common in women than men in space
- Space motion sickness may be more prevalent in women, and;
- Urinary tract infections are more common in women than men in space. 

While on the other hand:

- Visual impairment and intracranial pressure manifest less frequently in women than men in space
- Women commonly mount a more potent immune response than men
- Women experience less motion sickness on return to earth than men, and;
- The decline in hearing sensitivity due to space travel is slower in women than men.

But there is still so much we do not know

I am one of 50 women in the Mars100 - the 100 short-listed astronaut candidates in the Mars One mission. Mars One seeks to establish the first permanent human settlement on Mars. 

Permanent = one way. 

Gender is but one of the key diverse qualities of the 4-person crews that Mars One will be forming following the final selection process this year. Age and cultural diversity are a couple of the others. 

It has long been evident that diversity brings greater innovation and better problem-solving. Yes, there are challenges and lessons to learn to ensure that the benefits of such diversity can be optimised. But if we are to establish a truly sustainable society from scratch on another planet, we need to have the ideas, opinions, skills, experiences and perspectives of all aspects of society. Women and men of all ages and backgrounds are equally critical to the success of this mission.

But the value of the two women in the first Mars One crew that will land on the red planet sometime after 2032 may have a slightly heavier weighting - they may well be the first two women to leave Low Earth Orbit. The role they will play in inspiring girls and women (as well as men and boys) to follow their dreams is unmeasured. They will be the poster girls for the tsunami of women in our next generation who will become leaders and STEM educated. I and the other 49 women are ready to take on this responsibility, and this honour. And perhaps it will then become the time when we no longer see the contributions of one gender as so necessary, but the contributions of all people that is valued. 

You can’t help but be inspired by Dianne, learn more about Dianne here.

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