China believes that married women and mothers make better astronauts than single women.
Beijing has announced the selection of its first women astronauts for training to participate in the docking of its future space laboratory. Both women are aero-transport pilots of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and made it out of 15 women candidates tested since last year. Five men also made it.
“We had almost the same requirements for women as for men, the only difference was they must be married. We believe married women would be more physically and psychologically mature,” Zhang Jianqi, former deputy commander of China’s manned space programme, told Xinhua on Wednesday. Zhang reportedly said that women in space enjoy the advantage of ‘endurance and circumspection’ over men.
Last year, Chinese officials had said the astronauts must be ‘perfect humans’ — ruling out scars, bad breath and dental cavities.
This week, Xu Xianrong, doctor at the General Hospital of the PLA Air Force, was quoted as telling state media the mother’s-only criteria was “out of consideration of being responsible for lady pilots”. He may have meant it in the context of China’s one-child policy and concerns of potential infertility after space flight. “Though there is little evidence on how space experience will affect the female constitution, we have to be extra cautious,” he said.
Xu also said women astronauts have “more careful thoughts than males”.
Next year, China plans to launch Tiangong-1, an unmanned space module as a step toward the space lab.