It’s still a long way from happening but when the first person does step on the red planet, they are “likely to be” a woman according to the head of NASA, Jim Bridenstine.
He also said that regardless of who lands on Mars first, women will be included in NASA’s next trip to the moon — a much closer goal. He said NASA is committed to a broad and diverse set of talent, “and we’re looking forward to the first woman on the moon.”
Bridenstine made the comments during the Science Friday radio show.
Twelve men have been to the moon, but no woman has ever made the trip. Bridenstine said NASA is “absolutely” committed to making that happen. “In fact, it’s like to be a woman, the first next person on the moon,” he said.
— MotherNatureNetwork (@MotherNatureNet) March 12, 2019
“It is also true that the first person on Mars is likely to be a woman,” he said. “So these are great days.”
NASA has made Mars exploration a key priority through the Mars Exploration Program, which includes the Mars 2020 rover mission.
In the meantime, we’re set to see a breaking of the space ceiling in the coming weeks as the first all-woman spacewalk in history takes place at the end of March. On the ground, women will also head up the key roles at Mission Control.
The ‘Space Gap’ has been huge since NASA was first founded in 1958 and had all-male staff — although women later took on roles of being “human computers”, which was depicted in the film Hidden Figures. NASA is now more than one third female and selected its first gender-balanced cohort of astronauts in 2016.
There is some (limited) research to suggest that women may be more suited to space travel. NASA-funded research recently found that women may have a better biological capacity to fend off some of the cognitive declines associated with cosmic radiation.