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What the 2010s taught us about women in space 

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Is the future of spaceflight female? 

Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir captured the world’s attention with their historic all-woman space walk at the end of 2019. The 2020s is beginning with the duo scheduled to repeat their historic first twice more by the end of January. Is the future of spaceflight female?

If popular culture mirrors society, it is clear society craves more women in science, engineering, and space — not in skimpy skirts and silent roles, but as central characters that drive the story. Hidden Figures, a 2016 movie based on the book by the same name, told us the forgotten story of three African American women who helped launch John Glenn into orbit during America’s Jim Crow era.

Half a century later, their contributions finally got the recognition they deserve: the movie was nominated for three Oscar awards in 2017, the street in front of NASA’s headquarters in Washington was renamed Hidden Figures Way last summer, and Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson received Congressional Gold Medals last fall.

During the 2010s, the Hollywood blockbusters Interstellar, Gravity, and Arrival all featured women in leading roles as scientists and astronauts. For All Mankind, an Apple TV+ show that debuted last fall, and the Lady Astronaut book series imagine alternate historical timelines where women astronauts were on board from the start.

The real world has also moved away from the notion that women are unfit for spaceflight. The ratio of women among new astronaut trainees doubled from 20 percent in the 2000s (nine out of 46) to 47 percent in the 2010s (nine out of 19). Commercial astronaut instructor Beth Moses became the first woman on a commercial spaceflight aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo last February. In October, NASA astronauts Meir and Koch replaced a broken battery charger outside of the International Space Station during the first all-woman spacewalk. Two more such spacewalks are scheduled before Koch, who has been on ISS since March, returns to Earth in February.

The progress NASA has made during the last decade has not been without hiccups. The first all-woman spacewalk was originally supposed to happen last March with Koch joined by Anne McClain instead of Meir. However, the all-female EVA was canceled due to a shortage of spacewalk suits in the needed size at the ISS. Only one medium-sized upper body torso was readily available on the ISS. McClain had worn a large torso on a previous spacewalk, but sizing up would have impacted McClain’s arms reach needed for the scheduled task. She decided to let her colleague, Nick Hague, take the large suit — and her place in the scheduled spacewalk. McClain returned to Earth last June.

In early 2018, Jeannette Epps was was slated to become the first African American ISS crew member. However, she was removed from the mission still  unexplained reasons several months prior to the scheduled launch. Serena Aunon-Chancellor, who was originally scheduled for a later ISS rotation, took Epps’ place.

During the 2010s, NASA was often in the spotlight — either as a diversity pioneer, or as a hindrance. Some were not too happy about this. Marsha Ivins, a retired astronaut who flew five space missions between 1990 and 2001, spoke against what she called “the obsession with gender-diverse space crews.” She argued that NASA had  long since moved away from outright sexism or complete inability to accommodate women (for example, by not knowing enough about female hygiene products). “We’ve been sending gender-diverse crews to space since 1983. We’ve had women do every job a man does in space,” she wrote in Time Magazine last summer.

Ivins is correct that women have had the same roles as men during spaceflights. Nevertheless, women are still highly underrepresented in space. There has been essentially no change in the gender ratio at the International Space Station in its nearly 20 years of continuous occupation: women comprised 12 percent of the International Space Station population over the course of the 2000s, and 11 percent in the 2010s. Even if women had the spotlight and the same roles as men, they remained a minority in orbit.

Astronauts are the face of the space program, but NASA has been doing diversity work behind the scenes as well. Senior officials publicly supported the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. In 2014, NASA instituted guidelines to accommodate employees undergoing gender transition, and LGBTQ individuals have been included in their nondiscrimination policy since 2016.

NASA has been voted as the best place to work eight years in a row, and is leading other big federal employers in its support for diversity. However, it is still a relatively homogeneous workplace. The majority of NASA employees, as in all federal STEM jobs, are white (72 percent) and male (66 percent). Women and ethnic and racial minorities, except Asian Americans, are underrepresented at NASA in comparison to the general population; the biggest gaps are among women (34 percent at NASA vs 51 percent in the population) and Hispanic Americans (8 percent vs.16 percent). There is even less diversity at the top: 86 percent of senior employees are men, and 84 percent are white, while women and minorities are more likely to have lower-level administrative positions.

This lack of diversity, especially among leadership, leads to decisions that are more likely to reflect the lived experiences and perspectives of white men than of underrepresented populations. The spacesuit mishap that delayed the first all-women spacewalk is an example of this unintentional bias. Female astronauts are smaller on average, and thus more likely to use the medium-size torso unit, the smallest size that NASA currently offers. Male astronauts are more likely to use bigger sizes; the International Space Station had two large, but not two medium-size, torso units ready to go. NASA has already learned its lesson — the next generation of highly customizable spacesuits, able to accommodate anyone from “the first percentile female to the 99th percentile male,” will replace those designed with the average man in mind.

A need for a spacesuit that fits is just one example of how women are overlooked in an environment designed for men. In addition, the waste disposal system on the International Space Station is ill-suited to handle menstrual blood and waste; most astronauts opt for contraception to skip periods altogether. Ironically, the sample of female astronauts is too small for a robust clinical trial of hormonal contraception and its effects in a space environment.

Female and male bodies differ in many ways, and so does their physiological adaptation to radiation, microgravity, and other space perils. We know a lot about how space affects males, but not females. This is one of the areas where the space program should focus. The call to study sex differences in orbit might make progressive readers skeptical: we are still far from undoing the damages done by popular psychology’s claims that women and men differ in math or verbal skills. There is no direct link between gender and math skills, but this stereotype remains one of the challenges faced by women in STEM.

In the 2020s, NASA should build on the progress it has made on diversity and inclusion by redoubling efforts to understand its women astronauts and why men still outnumber them nine to one on ISS crew logs. More attention should be paid to how women respond to the rigors of spaceflight and experience the agency’s institutional culture.

Space systems designers should abandon one-size-fits-most approach, where females are seen as a deviation from the male standard. Physiological sex differences should instead be treated as important variables.

Simultaneously, NASA should listen to the experiences of women and minority employees, and work toward becoming truly inclusive, from its astronauts to its engineers and executives. Making space for everyone takes time, but it is worth the effort.

And it is about more than just fair representation: women might be better suited for a long-term spaceflight than men. Women are generally smaller and need fewer calories, they are socialized to be more interpersonal, and suffer less from some spaceflight effects. While flying all-women crews is unlikely — NASA briefly considered it in 1999 — having more women is certainly beneficial for the U.S. space program.

Inga Popovaite is a sociology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Iowa. She studies group interactions in space analog environments with a focus on emotions, status hierarchy, and gender. Follow her on Twitter: @inga_pop. 

 



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Former L.A. County Sheriff Is Ordered to Prison for Obstruction of Justice

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A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Lee Baca, a former Los Angeles County sheriff convicted of obstructing an F.B.I. investigation into his department’s troubled jails, to report to prison within three weeks.

Mr. Baca, 77, was convicted in March 2017 on felony counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and lying to federal investigators. He was sentenced that May to three years in prison, but he remained free on bond throughout his appeal, according to court documents.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, which prosecuted the case, declined to comment on Thursday. Lawyers for Mr. Baca did not immediately return phone calls or respond to emails seeking comment on Thursday evening.

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied a petition to open his case for review, clearing the way for Judge Percy Anderson of United States District Court to set the deadline for Mr. Baca’s surrender.

Mr. Baca, who has Alzheimer’s disease, resigned as the leader of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department in 2014 amid the growing obstruction scandal that would engulf at least 10 members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

According to prosecutors, the scheme, which they said began in 2011, included ordering a criminal investigation into federal agents who were themselves investigating allegations of corruption and civil rights abuses at Los Angeles County jails, as well as hiding an F.B.I. informant from investigators.

Mr. Baca put his undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, in charge of the plot, prosecutors argued. Mr. Tanaka, who was later convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy, was sentenced in 2016 to five years in prison.



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Why Mothers’ Choices About Work and Family Often Feel Like No Choice at All

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In the mid-1980s, in a landmark employment discrimination case against Sears, Roebuck and Co., the company argued that women were not promoted because they did not choose high-paying or stressful jobs. Sears won, but in testimony, Alice Kessler-Harris, a labor historian, offered an alternate lens: “Choice can be understood only within the framework of available opportunity.”

In a 1991 paper, “Gender Wars: Selfless Women in the Republic of Choice,” Joan C. Williams, a work-life law scholar, wrote: “This insistent focus on the ‘choices’ of individual actors deflects attention from the truly stunning consistency with which it ‘happens’ to be wives who ‘choose’ careers that ‘accommodate their children’s needs,’ while husbands continue (as they always have) to perform as ideal workers.”

Today, the divide is less stark: Three-quarters of mothers are employed. But many feel forced to make painful decisions, like leaving their child in inadequate care, or working in scaled-back jobs they say they wouldn’t have chosen under different circumstances.

It’s still framed as a woman’s own decision — lean in or opt out — and the language of choice continues to shape policy debates.

Democrats have proposed new federal programs, financed by taxpayers, that would provide things like paid family leave and public preschool — which they say would free parents from the limits on their choices today.

Republican proposals focus on individual solutions — like letting new parents draw down their Social Security or tax credits early, and providing funding to increase the number of home-based family child care providers. They say these would give parents more choice without the government swaying them in any direction, and ensure that “the people making different choices than you aren’t paying for your choices,” said Carrie Lukas, president of the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative policy group.

“It’s not just society forcing women to work less,” she said. “Or maybe it is partially society forcing them to, but at some point I think we’ve just got to accept the idea of women wanting to do this. I want them to have the best options possible and the most say to decide what their own personal preferences are.”

Preferences are shaped by policy, culture, the workplace and the realities of daily life. The question is how women’s choices might change if their options were different.



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Read Vanessa Hudgens, Austin Butler's Sweetest Quotes About Each Other – US News

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Videos can use content-based copyright law contains reasonable use Fair Use ( We’re going to bet on this: You’re still upset about Vanessa Hudgens and Austin Butler’s shocking split. Us too! After all, it was less than 24 hours ago that the world learned of the celeb couple’s breakup. As multiple outlets reported on Tuesday, the High School Musical actress and the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood star have decided to part ways after almost nine years of dating. Throughout their relationship, Hudgens, 31, and Butler, 28, always had the sweetest things to say about each other. It was just a few months ago that Butler gushed to E! News about his leading lady in an exclusive interview. “It’s hard for me to even put into words what that girl means to me,” the actor told E! News at the July premiere of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. “I am so inspired by her every day and I just love her to my core.” Photos  Vanessa Hudgens and Austin Butler’s Sweetest Quotes  As more details about the celeb duo’s relationship status continue to emerge, we’re taking a look back at Hudgens and Butler’s sweet romance. So, while they might be breaking free, let’s check out Hudgens and Butler’s cutest quotes about each other! Instagram / Vanessa Hudgens Birthday Tribute  “HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my love, my other half, my constant Inspiration and supporter. My best friend. My everything,” Hudgens wrote in a message to Butler on Instagram in Aug. 2019. “@austinbutler ✨28 is going to be [fire emojis].” Instagram So Proud  After Butler landed the role of Elvis Presley in director Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming biopic, Hudgens took to Instagram to celebrate. “I AMMMM OVERRRR THE F–KING MOOOOOOOOONNNNN,” Hudgens wrote on Instagram in July. “I CANT WAIT SO PROUD OF MY HONEYYYYY!!!” Instagram Premiere Time  “It’s hard for me to even put into words what that girl means to me,” Butler told E! News in July at the premiere of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. “I am so inspired by her everyday and I just love her to my core.” Article continues below Instagram Eyes on You  “The only one I have eyes for,” Hudgens wrote of Butler on Instagram on Valentine’s Day in 2019. Instagram Respect & Trust  Back in 2018, Hudgens opened up to Women’s Health about what makes her relationship with Butler work. “We both respect, trust and admire each other,” she shared. “It’s so solid now because I feel strong as an independent woman. I am very self-reliant, but it’s nice to have a best friend you can share victories with as well as losses.” Hudgens also added, “He inspires me more than anyone.” Instagram “The Light of My Life”  In a birthday tribute to his leading lady in 2015, Butler called Hudgens “the light of my life.” Article continues below Instagram Her Honey  “The Ice man cometh and now he goneth looool @austinbutler firs

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