On Orbit and Beyond

Volume 29 of the series Space Technology Library pp 123-134


Gender Composition and Crew Cohesion During Long-Duration Space Missions

  • Jason P. KringAffiliated withEmbry-Riddle Aeronautical University Email author 
  • , Megan A. KaminskiAffiliated withGeorge Mason University

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A major factor in the success of future long-duration space missions is the psychosocial functioning of the crew. An individual’s psychological health and well-being has a major impact on how well he or she adapts to the demands of isolation, confinement, and workload associated with complex missions. Although each crewmember possesses a unique combination of knowledge, skills, and abilities that influence their capacity to adapt, in this chapter we argue that mission success also relies on how well an individual functions in the larger social context of the mission. More specifically, interactions between crewmembers, as well as between the crew and ground personnel, play a significant role in the crew’s overall performance. Although many variables affect crew interactions, such as opportunities for personal space and privacy afforded by the spacecraft’s architecture, we contend that the most prominent factor is the crew’s composition. Beyond the size of the crew, the mixture of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and the blend of professional expertise, the most salient crew composition variable is gender.

Since even before Valentina Tereshkova’s flight in 1963, women have played an integral role in the history of human spaceflight. As of April 2010, for instance, 53 different women have flown in space, many as part of mixed-gendered crews aboard Russian space stations or the International Space Station (ISS). The April 2010 flight of Space Shuttle Discovery to the ISS set a record for the most women in space at one time as three female crewmembers aboard Discovery—Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, and Naoko Yamazaki—joined Station resident Tracy Caldwell Dyson in orbit. As the number of mixed-gender crews will likely increase in the future, including those taking voyages back to the Moon and then to Mars, it is prudent to ask if there are any potential limitations to men and women working together for extended periods of time.

This chapter reviews findings from mixed-gender crews in spaceflight as well as relevant analogues like aviation, Antarctic research bases, and other complex environments to highlight how gender composition moderates crew interactions and performance. To explore this relationship, we focus specifically on the variable of cohesion, or the degree to which crewmembers are committed to each other and to the crew’s shared task, and offer recommendations for the optimal gender composition for future space missions in terms of this important crew variable.