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‘I can’t remember feeling as excited about the future’: redesigning space travel for women | Guardian Careers

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“Remember when Nasa sent a woman to space for only six days and they gave her 100 tampons and asked will that be enough?” So goes last year’s viral TikTok referring to astronaut Sally Ride being asked by Nasa engineers in 1983 whether 100 tampons would be sufficient for her week-long stay in space (she was not actually sent with them).

Recalling the incident some years later, Ride, America’s first woman astronaut, said: “There were probably some other, similar sorts of issues, just because they had never thought about what kind of personal equipment a female astronaut would take.”

The satirical TikTok clips perhaps serve as a reminder that, 38 years on, oversights can still happen when women are underrepresented. After all, only 11% of the astronauts who have ever made it into space have been women.

But things look likely to change. In February, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched its first recruitment drive for new astronauts in 11 years, emphasising women applicants and those with disabilities (it recently extended the deadline). Nasa is reportedly planning to change rules on astronaut radiation limits, which are currently preventing female astronauts doing as many missions as their male counterparts. And as the US space agency gears up for its historic Artemis moon mission, which aims to see the first woman and person of colour land on the moon, it is a good time to understand just how much diversity affects innovation.

Tara Ruttley, associate chief scientist for microgravity research and adviser to the chief scientist’s office at Nasa, has witnessed a culture change at the biggest space agency in the world. When she started 20 years ago, she was one of only three women in her engineering group. Today, women make up around a third of employees, and represent 24% of those in science and engineering roles. “I think we all are aware of all the important stuff that comes out of diverse teams. When at least one team member has traits in common with the end user they’re designing for, then of course the product will have better innovation. It’s common sense. But how many teams of men have been put together to design something for women’s use?”

Data collection has resulted in improvements, for example, it has led to a recent modification to the toilets on the International Space Station to be more comfortable for women users (“they provide … let’s just say, a better suction,” says Ruttley). But when the datasets for female astronauts are so tiny – of the 566 people who have been into space, only 65 have been women, and much fewer have been people of colour – how can they help inform design and modifications?

Luckily, Ruttley explains that even small datasets can tell us a lot. “It’s small, but we do have enough data that tell us things like women have more challenges with something called ‘orthostatic intolerance’, which refers to the questions of why women tend to lose more blood plasma volume in space than men.”

Now data has revealed this discrepancy, more research will be carried out and ultimately countermeasures will be designed to support women in this situation.

To enhance the datasets, Nasa can also recreate space conditions here on Earth. She explains how studies like bed-rest, used to monitor volunteers who lie in bed from anywhere from a month to several months, help to simulate long-term microgravity. This allows data to be drawn – which sometimes looks at gender differences. Other studies also tell us of what appear to be advantages for women in space – women regularly outperformed men in situations that required withstanding prolonged isolation, while a 2014 Nasa report noted that hearing sensitivity declined more rapidly over time in male astronauts.

It might be worth noting that this data can also better serve men, making space technology work better for everyone. Ruttley says they are studying “changes in the brain and the eyeball and the fluid flow in space”, comparing males and females, as so far “women tend to do better with their vision in space”.

Over the years, initiatives and campaigns have attempted to encourage more women into the space sector. For example, the organisation Rocket Women aims to inspire women to pursue a career in space and other Stem sectors, while the Space4Women project, run by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment in Stem fields. Last year, Olay ran a Super Bowl ad campaign Make Space for Women, featuring retired astronaut Nicole Stott.

Ruttley explains that at Nasa, training now takes the form of teaching “how to have these conversations about recruiting more women and underrepresented minorities, by providing education and training across team members”.

One area of space design that has proved problematic for women is spacesuits. Emily Calandrelli, 34, is an MIT aerospace engineer, known for her Netflix show Emily’s Wonder Lab and social media presence. Her Instagram account, @thespacegal, has covered science experiments with Cardi B, for example, as well as providing facts and tantalising access into rocket designs. In one episode of her show, she tries on a cosmonaut suit while travelling in Russia. “It was obnoxiously large on me,” she laughs, “and they didn’t have any other option. That’s because in Russia they barely have any female cosmonauts at all. Most of their spacesuits are designed for the average male body, which is just way, way larger than the average female body.”

In March 2019, Nasa cancelled an all-female spacewalk because it didn’t have enough spacesuits in the right size (it went ahead later that year). As it prepares for its Artemis mission, it is also developing the exploration spacesuit and says the strategy guiding the design is for it to accommodate the “first percentile female to the 99th percentile male”.

On the need for greater diversity, Calandrelli says Stem careers need to be more accessible for low-income marginalised communities, but believes it is still a way off. “Online, it feels very much like there’s a community,” she says. “But when you go to a conference, it feels very different. You go and see a sea of white, old men. As someone who’s a woman, and of course, a white woman, I think that’s probably even more exclusionary if you are not white.”

Still, she feels confident the sector is changing, and argues that as well as the drive for more women, there should be a push for more inclusion across the board (after all, Sally Ride was more than Nasa’s tampon failingshe was the first astronaut acknowledged as part of the LGBTQ+ community) which will lead to new ideas around everything from tackling the gender pay gap in the industry to decolonising space travel, closing the racial technology gap and even what food is sent into orbit. As Calandrelli puts it, “I can’t remember feeling as excited about the future of the industry as right now.”



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This start-up is offering stressed techies the chance to switch off at its cabins

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Slow Cabins is coming to Ireland and aiming to tap into the trend for low-impact, sustainable, digital-free tourism.

A hospitality rental company targeting techies who want to digitally detox is preparing to welcome its first guests in Ireland.

Founded in 2017, Slow Cabins seeks to offer people the opportunity to spend time away from their tech lives in relaxed, remote and eco-friendly surroundings.

It is currently taking bookings in Ireland and will open its first cabins here from 1 August. As well as Ireland, the start-up has operations in Belgium and the Netherlands.

All of its cabin locations are secret to purposely encourage guests to switch off and detox from their day-to-day stresses. Guests book their cabins without knowing the exact location, but all cabins are located within a two-and-a-half hour drive from major cities.

Within about two weeks of the trip, guests receive details with the exact location of their cabin. Even then, they may have to park their cars and hike to get to their accommodation.

The idea behind Slow Cabins comes from low-impact and sustainable tourism. Cabins are equipped with queen-sized beds, log burners, solar panels, dry toilets, fire pits, grills and large windows. Each cabin is powered naturally by sunlight and water.

“Recent European studies show that our resilience improves and stress levels decrease by up to 70pc after a stay in nature,” said Slow Cabins Ireland director Matthew Parkinson.

“Getting away from it all brings peace, energy and a sense of perspective. And that’s where Slow Cabins have an interesting role to play in a fast ‘always-on’ society. Profit is not our only goal, but rather a means to create more positive social and environmental impact,” he added.

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Best podcasts of the week: Sam Smith charts 40 years of progress on HIV and Aids | Podcasts

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Picks of the week

A Positive Life: HIV from Terrence Higgins to Today
BBC Sounds, episodes weekly from 1 Jul
Sam Smith presents this series about the legacy of Terrence Higgins, one of the first people to die of Aids in the UK. The opening episodes tell the story of Terry, “the swashbuckler of life”, with London friends sharing their grief and confusion at his death. There’s optimism, too, as Smith hears from those who fought to make treatment available, and those living with HIV 40 years on. Hannah Verdier

The Last Bohemians
Widely available from 6 Jul

LA’s unsung heroines of rock’n’roll get their moment in the spotlight in the new series of Kate Hutchinson’s fierce female-applauding podcast. As always, the more offbeat characters are the best, starting with Angelyne, the “billboard queen” and hustler. Punk widow Linda Ramone and surrealist Penny Slinger are also coming up. HV

Dear Poetry
Audible, episodes weekly

Luisa Beck believes in the healing power of poetry and she’s spreading the love in a new podcast, with writers suggesting soothing texts to solve people’s problems. At one memorable point, author Luther Hughes gives a 21-year-old looking for love a poem with a powerful message: “You are that bitch – it’s gonna happen when it happens”. HV

Project Unabom
Apple Podcasts, episodes weekly

Notorious serial bomber Ted Kaczynski was the subject of an 18-year manhunt, and this podcast looks at what happened in that time. Host Eric Benson recalls Kacynski’s threats to stage more attacks if the Washington Post didn’t publish his manifesto, and shares interviews with a Dungeons and Dragons club that became the FBI’s initial suspects. HV

Algorithms
Audible, all episodes available

Comic Sadie Clark creates a podcast from her Edinburgh show – once called a “bisexual Bridget Jones for the online generation”. It opens with main character Brooke’s mum (Alison Steadman) spying explicit photos of her online. One breakup later and she’s using the dating app she writes the algorithm for, with pleasingly clumsy results. HV

There’s a podcast for that

Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon and Kim Cattrall filming Sex and the City: The Movie in 2007.
Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon and Kim Cattrall filming Sex and the City: The Movie in 2007. Photograph: James Devaney/WireImage

This week, Hannah Verdier chooses five of the best TV companion podcasts, from Dolly Alderton’s Sex and the City show to a Scrubs rewatch with stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison.

Obsessed With …
The BBC’s companion series to talked-about shows including Killing Eve, Peaky Blinders and Normal People is always high quality. Line of Duty brought out the big guns with Craig Parkinson, Vicky McClure and Martin Compston all giving their theories ahead of the big reveal, while Sophie Duker secured Michaela Coel for the finale of I May Destroy You. But watchalongs don’t always need high drama, as Evanna Lynch and Riyadh Khalaf proved as they bravely tackled the slowly shifting quadrangle of Conversations with Friends.

Sentimental and the City
If you initially had problems with And Just Like That’s faux-wokery but then grew to love it like a Botoxed old friend, Caroline O’Donoghue and Dolly Alderton hear you. These are women who know their stuff, with O’Donaghue uttering the words: “I don’t like the look of Big on that Peloton and I’m worried” after seeing just the trailer. Their Sentimental Garbage miniseries on the Sex and the City sequel is a place where debate about the divisive depiction of ageing, sexuality and diversity sits perfectly with lighter moments, like giggling over Charlotte’s robot lines.

Squirrel Friends: The Official RuPaul’s Drag Race Podcast
There’s not exactly a shortage of RuPaul-related pods out there, but this one comes from inside the Drag Race community, with hosts Loni Love and Alec Mapa who’ve been there and done the guest judging. Cackling and spilling of the hottest tea comes as standard as they recap All Stars season seven, dissecting all the entrance looks, performances and personalities. Their love for RuPaul never waivers, as they dish out compliments, one-liners and behind-the-scenes gossip after every episode of the hit show.

The Stranger Things Podcast
All-American father-daughter duo Addi Darnell and Darrell Darnell gently mock each other while going into the intricacies of the disturbingly lovable drama in podcast episodes that are even longer than the latest instalments. Is “whet your appetite” a thing? What’s the difference between hellfire and heckfire? And why is Eddie still languishing in high school when his teachers must be so desperate to see the back of him? No fan question is left unanswered in the deepest dive out there.

Fake Doctors, Real Friends with Zach and Donald
With nine seasons of the US medical comedy-drama Scrubs settling into its new home on Disney+, it’s the ideal time to rewatch your favourite episodes – along with its two main stars . JD and Turk (Zach Braff and Donald Faison) are now six seasons into their recaps, screeching with laughter at on-set moments and fondly remembering the times they broke down and cried. Their friendship and unmistakable chemistry is as tight off-screen as on, but occasionally they stop nattering for long enough to welcome guests such as Heather Locklear and Seth Green.

Why not try …

  • The stranger than fiction story of “Ohio’s bear king”, complete with music from Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle in Beast Master.

  • A special dose of summer spookiness, with a trio of new episodes from Danny Robins’s Uncanny.

If you want to read the complete version of the newsletter please subscribe to receive Hear Here in your inbox every Thursday

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W3C overrules Google, Mozilla’s objections to identifiers • The Register

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The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has rejected Google’s and Mozilla’s objections to the Decentralized Identifiers (DID) proposal, clearing the way for the DID specification to be published a W3C Recommendation next month.

The two tech companies worry that the open-ended nature of the spec will promote chaos through a namespace land rush that encourages a proliferation of non-interoperable method specifications. They also have concerns about the ethics of relying on proof-of-work blockchains to handle DIDs.

The DID specification describes a way to deploy a globally unique identifier without a centralized authority (eg, Apple for Sign in with Apple) as a verifying entity.

“They are designed to enable individuals and organizations to generate their own identifiers using systems they trust,” the specification explains. “These new identifiers enable entities to prove control over them by authenticating using cryptographic proofs such as digital signatures.”

The goal for DIDs is to have: no central issuing agency; an identifier that persists independent of any specific organization; the ability to cryptographically prove control of an identifier; and the ability to fetch metadata about the identifier.

These identifiers can refer to people, organizations, documents, or other data.

DIDs conform to the URI schema: did:example:123456789abcdefghi. Here “did” represents the scheme, “example” represents the DID method, and “123456789abcdefghi” represents the DID method-specific identifier.

“DID methods are the mechanism by which a particular type of DID and its associated DID document are created, resolved, updated, and deactivated,” the documentation explains.

This would be expressed in a DID document, which is just a JSON Object that contains other key-value data describing things like how to verify the DID controller (the entity able to change the DID document, typically through control of cryptographic keys) in order to have a trusted, pseudonymous interaction.

What Google and Mozilla object to is that the DID method is left undefined, so there’s no way to evaluate how DIDs will function nor determine how interoperation will be handled.

“DID-core is only useful with the use of ‘DID methods’, which need their own specifications,” Google argued. “… It’s impossible to review the impact of the core DID specification on the web without concurrently reviewing the methods it’s going to be used with.”

A DID method specification represents a novel URI scheme, like the http scheme [RFC7230] but each being different. For example, there’s the trx DID method specification, the web DID method specification, and the meme DID method specification.

These get documented somewhere, such as GitHub, and recorded in a verifiable data registry, which in case you haven’t guessed by now is likely to be a blockchain – a distributed, decentralized public ledger.

However, there is a point of centralization: the W3C DID Working Group, which has been assigned to handle dispute resolution over DID method specs that violate any of the eight registration process policies.

Mozilla argues the specification is fundamentally broken and should not be advanced to a W3C Recommendation.

“The DID architectural approach appears to encourage divergence rather than convergence & interoperability,” wrote Tantek Çelik, web standards lead at Mozilla, in a mailing list post last year. “The presence of 50+ entries in the registry, without any actual interoperability, seems to imply that there are greater incentives to introduce a new method, than to attempt to interoperate with any one of a number of growing existing methods.”

Mozilla significantly undercounted. There are currently 135 entities listed by the W3C’s DID Working Group, up from 105 in June 2021 and 86 in February 2021 as the spec was being developed. If significant interest develops in creating DID methods, the W3C – which this week said it is pursuing public-interest non-profit status – may find itself unprepared to oversee things.

Google and Mozilla also raised other objections during debates about the spec last year. As recounted in a mailing list discussion by Manu Sporny, co-founder and CEO of Digital Bazaar, Google representatives felt the spec needed to address DID methods that violate ethical or privacy norms by, for example, allowing pervasive tracking.

Both companies also objected to the environmental harm of blockchains.

“We (W3C) can no longer take a wait-and-see or neutral position on technologies with egregious energy use,” Çelik said. “We must instead firmly oppose such proof-of-work technologies including to the best of our ability blocking them from being incorporated or enabled (even optionally) by any specifications we develop.”

Despite these concerns, as well as resistance from Apple and Microsoft, the W3C overruled the objections in a published decision, a requirement for advancing the spec’s status. ®

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