China is planning to land people on the moon by 2036. If China does this right, then at least one of those people will be a woman. Objectively, it seems absurd that this needs an explanation, but we know what the world is like. So here’s why.
The simple fact is that if China sends an all-male crew on their first crewed lunar mission, they’re making a huge mistake. Not just because there’s capable, qualified women who could do the job just fine, but for a more cynical reason as well: being first.
Yes, there’s all manner of great reasons to go to the moon for the advancement of science and technology. No question. It’s a colossal achievement, something that’s only been accomplished by one other nation, at great effort. But it’s also a PR goldmine, and nothing plays better in the history books than doing big things first.
But America has already been to the moon. Six times, even, for a total of 12 astronauts who’ve bounced around on that lumpy, gray wonderland. Most people can’t name anyone other than the very first guy to plop down in the lunar dust.
So, 67 years later, even though what China will accomplish is a big deal, if it’s a dude that drops out of that lander, he’s going to be, at best, the 13th guy to do that.
But a woman will be the first.
China is doing this, at least in part, for prestige and history. For them to go through all this massive effort just to have the 13th guy on the moon makes no sense; they need the first woman on the moon.
If they’re really serious about racking up firsts, they should have an all-female crew (it’ll likely be three taikonauts) for the whole mission. Then they could have the first all-female crew (well, I guess technically Valentina Tereshkova’s solo 1963 Vostok 6 mission was all-female, but one isn’t an ‘all,’ really), the first women to go beyond earth orbit, the first women to orbit the moon, and the first women on the moon itself. That’s a lot of good firsts for one mission.
Of course, no one would bat an eye about an all-male crew, but an all-female crew will get more attention. And when you’re pouring resources into something as ambitious as a moon landing, more attention is a good thing.
China has already sent two women into space, taikonauts Liu Yang and then Wang Yaping. Both Yang and Yaping are around 38 years old, and with the current timeline of a lunar landing by 2036, they may be a bit old, at 57.
We don’t yet know who will be the first taikonauts on the moon. But if China wants to get the maximum historical impact from their first lunar mission, eventually, we’ll all know them.