Giant leap for womankind? Europe's space agency wants more female astronauts

by Lin Taylor | @linnytayls | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 9 February 2021 14:51 GMT

NASA astronaut Anne McClain assists fellow NASA astronauts Christina Koch (L) and Nick Hague as they check their U.S. spacesuits, March 18, 2019. Courtesy NASA/Handout via REUTERS

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Women account for just 11% of the 560 people who have traveled beyond the earth's atmosphere

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, Feb 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Space - the next frontier for gender equality? Europe's space agency launched a mission this week to take on more women astronauts as it kicked off its first recruitment campaign for more than a decade.

Nearly 60 years since the first human blasted off into space, women account for just 11% of the 560 people who have traveled beyond the earth's atmosphere, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

But following in the footsteps of NASA, the Paris-headquartered European Space Agency (ESA) said it wanted to ensure greater diversity among its astronauts.

"Representing all parts of our society is a concern that we take very seriously," said David Parker, the agency's director of human and robotic exploration.

"Diversity at ESA should not only address the origin, age, background or gender of our astronauts, but also perhaps physical disabilities," he said in a statement on Monday.

NASA, the U.S. space agency, announced plans last year to send the first female astronaut to the moon by 2024 through its Artemis moon programme.

Still, there have been some missteps along the way. NASA was forced to postpone the first all-female space walk in March 2019 because it did not have a spacesuit in the right size.

The historic space walk was completed later that year.

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(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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