World

A space dream sours

April 17 2000
World

A space dream sours

April 17 2000

A space dream sours

World

After a lengthy confrontation with Russian space officials, would-be Canadian astronaut Judith Lapierre returned to Quebec last week. Lapierre was one of eight researchers who climbed into a mock-up of the Russian Mir space station on Dec. 3 in Moscow as part of an experiment to determine how humans would react to being confined to cramped quarters. During the lockup, she witnessed fights and was sexually harassed when a Russian cosmonaut forcefully kissed her. Lapierre, who took part in the experiment under the auspices of the Canadian Space Agency, is still angry Russian officials have not acknowledged that anything serious happened. She now hopes to go on to Japan to do space-related research—but she no longer believes she will ever journey into

space. “By going public,” Lapierre told Macleans last week, “I’ve lost whatever chance I had of becoming an astronaut.” At times during the 110-day-long experiment, Lapierre said, she feared she was about to be attacked. At one point, a colleague even hid the knives in the

stations kitchen because of fears that two Russian counterparts who had bloodied each other in a New Year’s Eve fistfight were about to stab each other. And only minutes after the brawl, another Russian dragged Lapierre, 32, into a hallway and roughly shoved his tongue deep into her mouth.

At first, the Russians in charge of the program at Moscow’s Institute of Biomedical Problems denied and ignored Lapierre’s complaint. Then, project coordinator Vadim Gushin attributed her allegations to cultural differences: Russians, he said, do not distinguish between kissing on the lips and kissing on the cheeks when celebrating. The Russians also said they were reluctant to intervene, in part because they wanted to study human reaction to isolation, including, apparently, sexual harassment, brawling and drinking. Privately, they accused Lapierre of being a publicity seeker—an accusation that angers her. “I came here to work,” she counters, “not to fight men.”

Malcolm Gray in Moscow