Could China's ambitious space program be showing off a kinder, gentler face? Stay tuned 'til June, when the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft (booster being constructed, below) is scheduled to bring a three-man crew to the Tiangong 1 orbiting space station. Wait, did we say “three-man”? Perhaps that should be “three-person.”
It seems two “flawless” women have leaped every hurdle set by the the China National Space Administration (CNSA) to join an elite group of seven new Taikonauts shortlisted for the upcoming mission, with a further 30 men and 15 women selected for the back-up pool. Heavenly bodies indeed!
The two yet-to-be-named women succeeded in getting through an unusually tough selection process – with the emphasis on “unusual”. The broadest stipulations stated that eligible women “must be married and have given birth naturally,” according to Xu Xianrong, a professor with the General Hospital of the PLA Air Force, “because that would ensure their body and mental condition was mature enough.”
If that's not enough to make some Westerners (and any feminist) raise an eyebrow, some of the other qualifications surely will: candidates must not suffer from tooth decay, must not have any scars on their bodies, and must not emit excessive body odor – actually we added the word “excessive”, CNSA may hold the gals to a higher olfactory standard.
These aren't arbitrary conditions, mind you. “The women could not have decayed teeth as it might cause great trouble or a disaster in space,” explained Pang Zhihao, deputy editor-in-chief of Space International magazine operated by the China Academy of Space Technology. As for the other issues, “A scar might open and start bleeding in space,” continued Pang, “and the cramped conditions would intensify body odor.”
Fair enough, but must male Taikonaut applicants submit to the same screening process? Pang's not saying, no one seems to be asking and besides, he's on a roll: “Women astronauts tend to be more keen and sensitive with better communication skills than their male counterparts,” he stated, possibly from personal experience. “They were also good at dealing with relationships with their space partners,” added Pang, “which would be an important quality on a long mission such as a trip to Mars.”
The history of Women In Space goes back to the USSR's Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova whose solo, 3-day, 48-orbit flight in Vostok 6 shocked the world in June of 1963. It's not known what type of qualifications Tereshkova, now 75, was faced with other than being a parachutist under the age of 30.
If one or both of the Chinese lady Taikonauts manage to snag a seat on Shenzhou 9, they'll join an elite group of female space explorers while setting a new first for China's space program.
Well there you have it: China's going to the Red Planet and they just might have colonization in mind. “Mars Needs Moms” you say? China's all-natural, un-scarred, sweet-smelling crème de les femmes are on their way! (via China Military News, Xinhuanet, NASA Spaceflight, and Wallcoo)