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Missions to Mars should be commanded by women. They can better encourage their teams

Humans will stand on Mars for the next 10 years.  At least according to Gwynne Shotwell

In the novel Martian Melissa Lewis is also in charge of the Ares 3 mission in his film adaptation. This is quite a non-standard move by the author of the novel, Andy Weir, because, for example, in the twenty years of the International Space Station’s existence, the crews under the command of women could be counted on the fingers of one hand. So far, it is the case that, with few exceptions, men command in space.

Is Andy Weir on the issue of the gender of the mission commanders to the red planet next door? Or does he correctly anticipate this aspect of the future development of long space flights? In his bestseller, Weir slashed more than once. The very initial plot is wrong, when a raging windstorm threatens to overturn the landing module. In the extremely sparse atmosphere of Mars, however, the wind does not overturn the heavy module. Even at dizzying flow velocities, it does not have the necessary strength to do so.

The results of the research of the Lithuanian psychologist Inga Popovaité from the Kaunas technique testify in favor of the second option. A study published in the scientific journal Acta Astronautica proves that women are better as commanders on long-term missions.

Women encourage the team

Popovaité used the written reports of the commanders from Mars Desert Research Station for her research. This research station established Mars Society in the southern state of Utah, there are teams conducting research that simulates the stay of astronaut crews on Mars. The stays usually last around two weeks, but some crews spent a quarter of the year at the station.

In total, Popovaité checked 824 reports. They had an average of 348 words (2008 characters). Of the total number of reports, women wrote 277 and men 541. In the period that Popovaité evaluated, 27 commanders and 49 commanders took turns at Mars Desert Research Station.

A thorough analysis of the reports using state-of-the-art text evaluation algorithms revealed significant differences in the writing style of men and women. Women’s reports were formulated in a more positive way. Women also discussed the problems with the crew more often. The commanders emphasized team spirit, loyalty and achievement in discussions with the crew. The goals were equally important for the commanders, but they did not forget about mutual support of team members, motivation and positive mood.

“It is said that men, in the role of commanders, focus on fulfilling tasks, while women are much more sociable. But my research has shown that men and women are equally focused on fulfilling tasks. The only difference between men and women is that women are much more likely to encourage their team with positive messages, ”says Inga Popovaité.

The longer the mission, the more a woman should lead it

The prerequisites for effective command are usually associated with qualities that are considered typically masculine. Women in the role of commanders show the crew much more positive feelings, and on the contrary avoid manifestations of negative emotions, such as fear. According to Popovaité, it is the female type of command that is suitable in extreme conditions and crisis situations. In these circumstances, not only the emphasis on completing tasks is important, but also a friendly approach to people.

“Participants in simulated space missions are not just experiencing adventure, excitement and new discoveries. Most of the time, the crew performs routine, routine tasks, such as cooking food, washing clothes and cleaning quarters. Crews must survive for a long time without the psychological and emotional support of their families and friends. The commander, who is at the heart of the team’s emotional needs, is much more reliable and the importance of this factor increases with the length of the mission, “says Popovaitéová.

Cover illustration photo: D Mitriy, CC BY-SA 3.0

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