Yelena Serova will become Russia’s fourth woman in space this week when she heads to the international space station (ISS).
However, Russian reporters at the pre launch press conference seemed more interested in how she would maintain her hair and her relationship with her 11 year-old daughter while she was away on board the ISS.
At first, being a good sport, she went along with their questions - even jokily offering to show the press how she would wash her hair in space. However, once the reporters persisted along the same line of questioning Ms Serova, who is sometimes known as Elena, retorted: “Can I ask a question, too: aren't you interested in the hair styles of my colleagues?" she asked, flanked by the male astronauts who will accompany her.
Russian cosmonaut Yelena Serova. Photo: VASILY MAXIMOV
"My flight is my job.
"I'll be the first Russian woman who will fly to the ISS. I feel a huge responsibility towards the people who taught and trained us and I want to tell them: we won't let you down!"
The 38-year-old engineer has spent the last seven years training for the role. On Thursday she is due to blast off in a Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan with NASA’s Barry Wilmore and the Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev.
The reports which followed the press conference contained references to her “dark hair pulled into a tight bun”. And yet, no mention was made of any of her male colleagues’ hair style or concerns about their relationship with their respective children while they are away.
Ms Serova, who hails from a village in Eastern Russia, studied engineering at the Moscow Aviation Institute. She was personally chosen for this mission by Vladimir Popovkin, the former head of Russia’s space agency.
Valentina Tereshkova, the Soviet cosmonaut, was the first woman in space in 1963. It took nearly 20 years for the next female to follow her.
Igor Marinin, editor of Russian magazine Space News, claimed that the Soviet Union had wanted to win the space race with Ms Tereshkova, but then stopped using women for many years because they were not seen as “physically strong enough”.
"In space, it's men's work. The leadership then were military; they decided not to take women as cosmonauts any more,” he explained.
Mr Marinin added: "We are doing this flight for Russia's image," he said. "She [Ms Serova] will manage it, but the next woman won't fly out soon."