Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Au Pair, or Else
by Lee Budar-Danoff

Frail World
by R.A. Conine

Electra Had a Daughter
by Juliana Rew

This Long Vigil
by Rhett C. Bruno

Old Clothes
by Eric Del Carlo

Good Behavior
by Genevieve Williams

Saving Time
by John Hegenberger

World Away
by Alan Garth

Shorter Stories

Dreams to Dust
by Jamie Lackey

Virtual Ghosts
by Adam Gaylord

Olympus Mons
by James E. Guin


Science of Dogs
by John McCormick

Not Lost in Space
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips





Mars Needs Petite Women

ONCE UPON A TIME I HAD A BRILLIANT girlfriend who worked for a very well-known aerospace company who was working on a hush-hush black-budget government program to build an underground shelter capable of surviving who-knows-what-end-of-the-world-Götterdämmerung. Somewhere along the activity-network diagram and the critical path for building this deep nest in the ground, the subject of male-female population ratio came up. She and the other female project engineers all looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders in unison and said, “Why are men included at all?”

They pointed out—to the deep chagrin of their male bosses, you might have guessed—that when the time came to leave the survival shelter and repopulate the Earth, a few men might be nice, but many young fertile women and a chilled bottle of genetically diverse and healthy sperm were the only things required. Men were a wildly expensive luxury item. They certainly would be nice to have around, but they weighed too much, consumed too many resources, and were far more likely to cause problems than women. Besides, when the emergency was over and everyone surfaced, guess who’d want to be the boss? Some man of course ... and they’d fight each other for it.

“What is the biggest problem facing society? Men,” says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., biological anthropologist, Senior Research Fellow, The Kinsey Institute, member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Internet dating site

So I keep seeing articles and engineering magazine blog comments asking “How many women should we take to Mars?” or “Should we take women along on the trip to Mars?” I am always amazed by such questions, and post my unapologetic feminist rants ... which are summarily deleted by the editors. And by the way ... who’s this “We” they’re always talking about?

I claim no particular aim “to get more women into jobs so far occupied mostly by men.” I am generally not on the side of having special “affirmative action” programs at all. If a man does it better, then he should do it. If a woman does it better, then she can handle it. If a Black Labrador does it better. Then, woof grrrr ... woof. As for pay scales, of course they must be equal except for the dog, who works only for chew-toy ecstasy.

In the case of sending humans to Mars, or on other long space missions, it clearly makes engineering sense to send women only—smart, fit, petite, women. And if the goal is to grow human beings, women can do that all by themselves.

The Soviet Union’s Valentina Tereshkova, since her launch in 1963, was the only woman in space for over nineteen years. Russian Svetlana Savitskaya was the second woman in space and the first woman to spacewalk in 1982, followed by the first U.S. woman, astronaut Sally Ride, in 1983. Russia hasn’t kept up a female presence in orbit; it only last year launched its first female cosmonaut in almost two decades, Elena Serova. But the log jam (or baloney jam) seemed to have been broken and now about fifty-nine women have been in space. So it’s no longer a novel concept. There’s plenty of female talent for the job and there really isn’t any particular reason for taking men along on future space missions. Men don’t seem to have any special talents that provide them an automatic ticket, and men carry evolutionary baggage ... so to speak.

In fact: “Women are not equal to men; they are superior in many ways, and in most ways that will count in the future. It is not just a matter of culture or upbringing. It is a matter of chromosomes, genes, hormones, and nerve circuits. It is not mainly because of how experience shapes women, but because of intrinsic differences in the body and the brain,” writes Emory University anthropologist Melvin Konner in “Women After All: Sex, Evolution and the End of Male Supremacy.”

Now this is not another silly introduction to ranting about the “War of the Sexes,” and claiming that one sex is superior to another. It should come as no surprise that human sexes have evolved to be perfectly and utterly complementary. A typical man’s upper body strength, larger size (sexual dimorphism), heavier bones, and the complete lack of child-bearing ability, has made men useful in fighting, breaking things, and hunting bears for two million years. And one hopes men will continue to be useful even when not fighting in hand-to-hand combat. It must also be granted that some men seem to have a particular penetrating brilliance, creativity, and madness found less commonly in women. And women’s ability to have babies and nourish infants while gathering kindling, weaving cloth, and planting crops—with babies riding on their hips—has certainly been the foundation of civilization as we know it.

Except for wet-nursing and donating sperm, either sex can do any job.

The ability of women to control their own fertility has fundamentally changed the future potential of human civilization. Women’s advantages have not yet been totally realized, but it’s headed that way. Delaying giving birth has allowed many more women to get college degrees and, as Margaret Sanger asserted, The Pill allowed women to escape poverty and control their own lives for the first time.

But we should ask the pertinent question: “Which sex would do better in space?” Are there intrinsic biological characteristics which would suggest that one sex is better able to perform the duties required of them on a long voyage, for example a landing on Mars with an extended stay? Or Mars colonization? Or crewing an interstellar colony ship?

Kate Greene, author of “An All-Female Mission to Mars” (“Slate,” October 19, 2014), signed onto the first NASA-funded research project called HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation), where a volunteer crew of three men and three women spent four months in a shelter on the rocky barren slopes of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. (There have since been several HI-SEAS missions.)

Greene writes that sending a petite all-female crew to Mars has actually been proposed by Alan Drysdale, a former systems analyst in advanced life support and a subcontracteditorialor with NASA. She writes: “Drysdale found that a fifth-percentile woman would use less than half the resources of a ninety-fifth-percentile man.” Says Drysdale, “Small women haven’t been demonstrated to be appreciably dumber than big women or big men, so there’s no reason to choose larger people for a flight crew. When it’s brain power you want, the logical thing to do is to fly small women.”

[American astronaut and chemist Tracy Caldwell Dyson, left, aboard the Cupola, an ESA-built observatory module of the International Space Station.]

Yes, millennial male dominance is about to end. You can witness it all over the world. There are places where I would expect to see males continue to dominate, perhaps as fighter pilots, where some natural male aggressiveness or other characteristic comes in useful. Men and women are actually different.

For instance, average men are only nine percent taller than average women, but this difference is important. Students of physics will immediate recognize that the average body-mass difference is the cube of that difference, or 29.5 percent heavier. But the advantages of female astronauts don’t stop there.

No rational space agency would propose sending 250-kilogram (even if brilliant) geologists and explorers to Mars; so astronaut mass is certainly a consideration. In fact, it is entirely reasonable to send only very small people (say, in the fifth percentile of mass).

Furthermore, for a variety of reasons—such as a woman’s physiology being designed to provide for the woman and the occasional growing fetus—women can operate perfectly fine on a far-lower caloric intake than a man of the same size.

Greene studied the caloric intakes of the HI-SEAS men and women and noticed that in general, with the same level of activity, the women used less than half the caloric intake of the men. So even if NASA could put together a crew composed of a mix of small women and small men, a crew composed of all women would still have a lower caloric intake.

If women from the fifth percentile size (petite) were chosen as astronauts, the entire Mars mission could be accomplished with only a fraction of the energy expenditure required by a mission crewed by average-size men. This cascading requirements spiral has long been understood by aeronautical and aerospace engineers: more payload requires more structure; more structure requires more fuel; more fuel requires more structure to support the fuel—and ’round and ’round it goes. To top it off, returning from Mars requires a return vehicle and its own fresh fuel and supplies. This cascading requirement spiral goes both ways of course—a smaller crew uses fewer supplies and fewer supplies requires less mass, which requires less structure and less fuel, and so on. So if our astronauts are one-half the size, the energy expenditure to get to Mars (and back) could be something like one-third as much!

The approximate size of a Mars-mission undertaking can be understood by calculating that the energy cost of first placing our Mars landing and return ship into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is roughly what it requires to accelerate its mass to a velocity of eight km/s, and the energy cost of placing anything onto the surface of Mars is roughly what it takes to accelerate the mass of such a ship already in LEO to an additional velocity of eight km/s. So if it takes the largest rocket ever built to put our Mars expedition ship into LEO, the same size rocket would be needed to boost it out of LEO to land on Mars. No wonder various inventive approaches are being discussed such as sending to Mars a return vehicle that can make its own fuel before sending a crewed one-way ship. That fact alone has spawned some adventurous “no return” proposals.

This is not as novel as one might think. For millennia, humans have embarked on adventures and colonization missions that have had a “no return” clause in the fine print. For millennia, conquerors have “burned their ships” to get commitment from their (usually) men.

Recently “Mars One,” a not for profit foundation with the goal of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars, has begun accepting candidates to go on a one-way trip to the Red Planet. So far they have had over 200,000 enthusiastic applicants from which one thousand have passed the selection process. After testing the spacecraft, starting in 2020, the first manned mission is scheduled to depart on a one-way mission in 2026. Thereafter, crews and supplies will launch every 26 months (when Earth and Mars are closest).

Ultimately, the lightest healthy competent crew is the engineering choice. There shouldn’t be any debate on this issue. But should we have a mixed crew—one composed of some men and some women? This is a difficult question. The easy answer is to have a same-sex crew. Aboard ships and in tightly confined situations, it is easiest to deal with only one sex. Some militaries seem to be able to do it, albeit with difficulties.

But the most remarkable feature of humans, which distinguishes them from all other animals, is their intelligence. This evolutionary invention (which may yet turn out to be a dead end), has decreed that bigger people are not smarter than smaller people.

The calorie requirements of an astronaut matter significantly when planning a mission. The more food humans need to maintain weight on a long space journey, the more food should launch with them. The more food launched, the heavier the payload. The heavier the payload, the more fuel required to blast it into orbit and beyond. The more fuel required, the heavier the rocket becomes, which it in turn requires more fuel to launch.

Every pound counts on the way to space. Which is why NASA, keenly aware of this in the early 1960s, nearly considered an all-female astronaut corps as the right stuff.

Eric M. Jones













benday About Our CoverthumbGart Paese is a frequent contributor to “Perihelion.” For this month’s cover, he sketched out the rough image on paper, then scanned it into a PC running Adobe Photoshop for finishing, rendering, and final coloring.