Not just from Venus

Dinner debate in European Parliament on women in planetary research and exploration

Europlanet organised a third dinner debate in the European Parliament on the 27th February 2013. This time, the topic was ‘Not just from Venus – women in planetary research and exploration’. The debate was hosted by MEP Britta Thomsen.

European planetary flagship missions Rosetta and JUICE both have women at the helm. However, while these outstanding women provide impressive role models, the percentage of women at high levels in Europe’s space research and engineering communities remains low. Across the Euroepan Union, numbers of women attaining membership of the International Astronomical Union range from nearly 25% in France and Italy to only around 9.5% in Germany and Denmark. Interviews with more than a hundred women for International Year of Astronomy in 2009 present a compex picture of a career ‘labyrinth’, with a large set of small problems that drain away women at each step.

Planetary science provides an inspirational tool that can motivate young women to follow a career in science and engineering. Europe needs to capitalise on upcoming missions like Rosetta and JUICE to inspire the next generation of women scientists and engineers. But it also needs to address the problems that discourage them from staying in the field and the resulting waste of training and skills.

Today, women, although their presence at university in engineering and technology fields relevant for space is improving slowly, are still under-represented in the space engineering workforce at every level. In 2010, the proportion of women in the European space industry was 21%, more than half of them in possession of a university diploma (AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD-Eurospace) – Facts & Figures – The European Space Industry in 2010 – 15th edition, June 2011). The professional association “Women in Aeospace Europe” was created mid-2009, with a view to mobilise and to connect companies, institutes, individual men and women concerned with gender balance in the European aerospace sector.


Athena Coustenis, Chair of ESA’s Solar System Exploration Working Group / CNRS/ Paris Observatory
Maria Teresa Capria, Europlanet IDIS Coordinator / INAF-IAPS
Bérengère Houdou, European Space Agency / Women in Aerospace – Europe
Yaël Nazé, FNRS / University of Liege / Winner of 2012 Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement


Women in Aerospace – Europe:
She is an Astronomer International Year of Astronomy Cornerstone Project: