Cosmonaut Elena Serova was not amused when she attended a press conference recently where journalists asked her questions about her hair and her duties as a mom.
Serova will be the fourth female Russian in space when she joins the International Space Station later this year. It has been nearly 17 years since the last Russian woman was sent to space.
Why so few women? Igor Marinin, editor of Space News, said that women are often rejected for space missions because they are not as strong as their male counterparts. The belief is that working in space is "men's work," so female cosmonauts are like a novelty. Marinin stated that the head of Russia's space agency appointed Serova to help Russia's image, but that other female cosmonauts probably wouldn't follow her for a long time.
Marinin also made comments about Serova working with so many males on the ISS in close quarters is causing problems because she is a "charming, attractive woman."
Unfortunately, this backwards attitude carried into a press conference that Serova recently attended, with her fellow male cosmonauts. When asked about topics that were completely irrelevant to her journey to space, such as her hair and makeup routine, Serova did not shy away from pointing out the obvious.
"Can I ask a question, too: aren't you interested in the hair styles of my colleagues?" Serova asks. "My flight is my job."
One journalist did not take the hint and the resulting article mentioned Serova's "dark hair pulled into a tight bun" and her "strong, resolute face." The article did not mention the hair or facial expressions of the male cosmonauts present at the press conference.
Serova also fielded questions about leaving her 11-year-old daughter for six months. Serova didn't see it as an issue, because technology will help them stay close.
"I don't see anything that can impede our further close communication in space. because we have a lot of means of communication on board the ISS," says Serova.
Serova studied engineering at the Moscow Aviation Institute and worked as an engineer for RKK Energia, which manufactures spaceships. She eventually ended up at Russia's space agency mission control before the agency selected her as a cosmonaut.
However, it seems that Serova's accomplishments aren't as important as her gender. A female cosmonaut on the ISS is progress, but we still have a long way to go.
Skip to 30:30 to see Serova's response