So here’s an interesting fact:
In space, women astronauts may have advantages…..women tend to make a lighter load and burn fewer calories for the same amount of work. (1)
This quote is from an article about space travel to Mars. NASA research that tests different aspects of a Mars Mission has been underway for decades exploring the feasibility of sending human beings to the red planet and returning them to Earth. Simulations to test how groups behave in living conditions similar to those facing a crew on a Mars Mission have been conducted in remote locations here on earth.
Carefully selected teams are isolated from the rest of humanity and put through the paces of functioning with limited resources similar to those that a crew could take with them as they venture to Mars. In one experiment, six astronaut hopefuls have spent nine months housed in geodesic domes perched on the lava-covered slopes of Mauna Loa running experiments under conditions that mimic those found on Mars.
The major challenge that individuals face in these simulations is boredom. Boredom coupled with no avenue for relief is a lethal combination when it comes to human beings. Voyages that have been taken here on earth as dangerous and uncertain as a Mission to Mars, such as those to the Antarctic and before that to the New World, saw their fair share of suicide and homicide. The main force that can be applied to counter this toxic blend of boredom and stress is a solid team.
Beyond the technologies that these simulations test, they are also testing the requirements for building a high functioning team under extreme conditions. The personal qualities that the researchers have found that form the basis of a good team in harsh, unforgiving conditions include resilience, low-drama, sociability and tolerance for low stimulation. Funny, but these strike me as the qualities that have traditionally been associated with parenting, and more often than not with motherhood. They are the requisite success factors for someone who has to spend all day with infants or little kids, battling boredom, keeping things running smoothly and making sure that everyone plays nicely with others.
Back to the introductory quote. When I first read it, what immediately came to mind was this: What if the right stuff in both physiological and psychological terms for what lies ahead has shifted dramatically? What if the explorations that we need to undertake as a society demand a different protocol than those of the past? If the answers to these questions are affirmative, then, one way to look at the rise of women and, I would also add, minorities, is as an adaptive evolution rather than a disruption. Hey homo sapiens sapiens, forget about Mars! This is how we are going to survive the increasingly harsh and unforgiving conditions that we will face here on earth.
In the past few years, it feels as though humankind is living through rapid changes in the structure of social systems. In the United States, the expanding mainstream embrace of those who have been considered “other” has reached a tipping point beyond which there is no going back. Diversity and inclusion are enshrined in law and increasingly in practice. Even if some of it is window-dressing, there is an expectation that institutions must nod in this direction. In India and the Middle East, the precarious role of women and minorities is being loudly and publicly questioned on the world stage with persistence and attention as never before.
Technology has played a key role in these changes, but it could have gone the other way too. As information coursed into places previously isolated and cut off, it could have been rejected, but in most instances, this has not been the response. People absorbed the information and took action. Demographics has played a role too – women will increasingly be the new holders of wealth around the world and a new generation will soon be coming into its own, picking up the mantle of responsibility for the future. I almost wrote that they will be stepping into positions of authority, but I am convinced that the structures in which I have operated for most of my adult life have already begun to change and are being replaced by something less formal in favor of something more adaptive.
When I was young, I did not think that I would see social, political and economic structures change too much in my lifetime and this was disheartening. As an ambitious girl, I wanted to be in the world in ways that nice Jewish girls weren’t. However, I misjudged the pace of change. Now, I take heart as the tectonic plates of social, political and economic structures shift and resettle into a new configuration that demands a new understanding of what is required for institutions to succeed – a next generation right stuff.
Source: (1) “Moving to Mars,” Tom Kizzia, The New Yorker, April 20, 2015