Gender issues related to spaceflight: A NASA perspective

November 25, 2001 -- Bethesda, Md. Twenty-two percent of the active astronaut corps are women (35 of 158). The average female astronaut is 42 years old (vs. 43 years for men) and weighs 60.7 kg (vs. 81.2 kg for men). Insufficient data exist in most of the discipline areas at the present time to draw valid conclusions about gender-specific differences in astronauts or to determine their impact on the health of male and female astronauts.

The inability to draw statistical comparisons based on gender differences is linked to the small number of female astronauts, resulting in an insufficient study sample. In addition, individual differences in physiological responses within genders are usually as large as, or larger than, differences between genders, so individual characteristics usually outweigh gender differences per se.

Despite these obstacles, a minireview in the November edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology, a publication of the American Physiological Society (APS), offers a summary of gender-specific physiological changes and health issues in astronauts for future consideration and in light of the expectation that the number of female astronauts will grow. The summary is derived from a special task-force report developed by Deborah L. Harm, Janice V. Meck, Michael R. Powell, Lakshmi Putcha, Clarence P. Sams, Suzanne M. Schneider, Linda C. Shackelford, and Scott M. Smith, of the Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Office, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tx.; Richard T. Jennings, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Tx., and Peggy A. Whitson of the Astronaut Office, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tx.

The review is part of the APSs fall focus on gender differences in physiology. It provides an overview of known and potential gender differences in physiological responses to spaceflight and covers cardiovascular and exercise physiology, barophysiology and decompression sick

Contact: Donna Krupa
American Physiological Society

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