The woman from Mars – a fascinating story by a Slovak astrobiologist

Dr Michaela Musilova,
Dr Michaela Musilova,

The path taken by the 32-year-old astrobiologist, Dr Michaela Musilova, to work with extremophiles (with organisms living in extreme environments) to achieve the goals set, above all the biggest one – to become an astronaut and to carry out space research, has not been easy.

In the book The Woman from Mars, written by the publicist Lucia Lackovic and currently published by Artis Omnis, readers can learn about her life, her research, and the personalities of world science that she has become acquainted with during her studies, research, expeditions and conferences. In Michaela’s very open and honest confession, she describes her journey from a child with no significant financial background who dreamed of a dream of flying into space and endlessly follows it to a woman who is fulfilling that dream. 

The Woman from Mars is a book that describes the difficult conditions of women in science, and one of her aims is to encourage women to have the courage to speak up against conditions that disadvantage them in any way compared to men.

The scientific world is riddled with discrimination 

“The scientific world is riddled with discrimination. It’s full of sexism and racism, men stealing discoveries from women, the elderly appropriating ideas, discoveries and youth work. However, something has changed. Women lose their inhibitions to speak up. And men are starting to get scared. Some … It also happens that the laboratory in which the women work is commented by certain men: At least I have something to look at.” 

There is still an unspoken rule that many scientists despise the research of laboratories in which many women work, or even a balanced number of women. One such area is, for example, astronomy. Elsewhere, women are routinely harassed and blackmailed. These men, as if they were unaware of the impropriety of their actions. It happens that some educated men group together to comment on a self-educated and successful colleague by saying that she is ‘preserved.‘

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How to set boundaries? 

“It’s not right. Changing the mentality of the elderly may not be entirely possible. They’ll probably never fully understand it, just accept the boundaries that have been set. But we have to set the boundaries! We must not be afraid to speak up! At the same time, young people must be led from childhood to understand these boundaries. Otherwise, companies will continue to exist, even in academic circles, where women will be measured by numbers. Not by their professional success, but by the subjective perception of their appearance by men. 

Woman’s reputation is partially protected. It doesn’t guarantee protection from everyone, but it acts as a filter for the most primitive. However, a woman is not only valuable because she is educated and successful. The rules of equality and respect set out must apply regardless of the educational background, the financial situation or the profession. They have to pay regardless of gender.”

Dangerous field research 

She also describes the challenges involved in the field research, sometimes involving life itself.  “When I pulled my hand out of the icy river, I saw that the needle went in one side of my finger and out the other. My hands were so frozen, I could barely feel it. All I could think of was that the blood would attract a polar bear. I went to the science tent looking for the first aid kit. I couldn’t forget to sterilize the gloves, and after basic treatment, I immediately continued the experiment. With a punctured finger.”

The relentlessly high pace and commitment of work have also taken their toll on Michaela. In the book, she describes the process by which she has reached the limits of her power and offers advice to those who are on a similar path to her.

“I couldn’t go to a hotel dinner, the prices were way out of my price range, so I went to the grocery store to buy food and at least ate something in a hurry to make it to the next Horizon 2020 meeting. In the evening, I was at the end of my rope, I had meetings and discussions to attend, so I took off my shoes and, as I was, I went to the beach next to the hotel. I found a more remote, but not too remote place, lay down in the sand in my dress, put my purse under my head, covered myself with my jacket, and immediately fell asleep. I dozed off for less than an hour, got up, dusted off the sand and returned to the presidential delegation.”

“So, yes, I’ve always been willing to go all the way. But this time I’ve come to the limit of my powers. You can tell in advance. This condition is accompanied by a number of unmistakable signals which alert you to the fact that it is approaching. They can’t be overlooked, and one must either consciously suppress them or ignore them to drive them away. It’s a feeling that can be captured in time. It’s even hard to miss. If you register the condition, don’t underestimate it. No, I don’t think so. You’re not thinking about it. Oh, no. You won’t. Slow down! Slow down!”

Inspiration for young people 

One of the important aims of the book is to give a flavor to young people who are thinking about a scientific career and to encourage them even if this journey is not straightforward. She said: “When I’m two years older, I hope to be half as good as you. I was surprised. It was at that moment that I realized that my study and career path had become something of an ideal for other students and that I was, in a sense, a role model for them. It was binding and, at the same time, it was gradually becoming clear to me that the female role model is also extremely important for other girls and women, not just those who go to university with me.

That role models motivate the career path, the development of skills, the personality set-up, and that you never know who your words and life’s example inspires. Of course, everyone has different conditions and different potential but one can always try to get closer to a goal and sometimes, if one really, really, really tries and if one is lucky, then one can achieve it. I wish she wasn’t half as good as me. I wish she was better!”

Fight, even when it fails 

“If everyone ended their efforts at a time when it is not and when things are not going smoothly and painlessly, we would never get anywhere. Situations tend to get complicated. Especially when there’s a lot at stake. The more variables, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. In any move, whether personal, scientific or social … It is essential to overcome a number of obstacles and to face situations which are not pleasant and which require self-restraint and energy, courage and activity.

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