Signourney Weaver in Alien (1979)

Sorry Bros, Science Says Women Are Better At Handling Space Travel

2 min read

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We always knew that Ellen Ripley would be the chosen one. Now, there’s even science to back it up. A study published in Nature Communications shows that women’s bodies are more suited to spaceflight than men’s bodies.

The mammoth study, a collaboration between over 40 experts from Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medicine, looked at how an individual’s body recovers from space missions. Scientists took serum and blood samples from crew members aboard the 2021 SpaceX mission ‘Inspiration4’.

‘Inspiration4’ was selected due to the fact all four crew members were regular civilians, not professional astronauts. According to the paper, their layperson status meant they had a more “diverse genetic and biomedical background” than NASA astronauts, who are subject to a strict diet and training regime.

Space travel: Women vs. men

Studies have shown the human body responds to the stresses of space travel in different ways when an astronaut returns to Earth. For example, astronauts might experience reduced muscle mass, bone density loss or increased mineral levels.

So, scientists wanted to see if the everyday person could weather a long space trip to, say, the Moon. Could the average Joe simply hop onto a spacecraft and jet off to the Moon? And what did this mean for mankind’s ambition to eventually live on Mars? 

After collecting samples scientists analysed cell, biochemical and haematology data, among other metrics. This was to observe immune and metabolic changes. They looked at cells related to inflammation, ageing, muscle homeostasis — when your muscles regrow or degenerate to protect your body — and so on.

Scientists found that males “appear to be more affected by spaceflight, for almost all cell types and metrics”. Men also took longer than women to recover after spaceflight.

Also, several changes in cell activity indicated that men might experience “significant and long-term chromatin disruption”. Chromatin is a complex set of DNA and proteins that form chromosomes. So, in simple terms, it means that men’s bodies are more likely to go through ‘DNA damage’.  

More women in space?

The paper doesn’t delve into the reasons behind the difference in results, but Cornell University’s Dr. Christopher Mason, one of the paper’s authors, speculates it’s because women’s bodies are able to handle the stresses of pregnancy. This could result in women being able to “tolerate large changes in physiology and fluid dynamics”, Dr. Mason told The Washington Post. Childbirth makes you powerful, it seems!

Keep in mind that those were preliminary findings, and the sample size was small. Nonetheless, scientists say the result provided a window into understanding how different body types were suited for space.

The study is particularly significant when you consider the fact that, to date, only 10% of astronauts who have travelled to space were women. With Australia’s first female astronaut, and NASA’s plans to put the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon, the data could help guide future space missions.

Who run the world? Girls 😉

Image: Alien (1979), clip via YouTube