EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Participation of women scientists in ESA Solar System missions: an historical trend

Arianna Piccialli1, Julie A. Rathbun2, Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd3, Anni Määttänen3, Anna Milillo4, Miriam Rengel5, Alessandra Rotundi4, Matt Taylor6, Olivier Witasse6, Francesca Altieri4, Pierre Drossart7, and Ann Carine Vandaele1
Arianna Piccialli et al.
  • 1Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB), Planetary Aeronomy, Uccle, Brussels, Belgium (
  • 2Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, USA
  • 3LATMOS/IPSL, Sorbonne Université, UVSQ, CNRS, Paris, France
  • 4INAF, Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali, Italy
  • 5Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Göttingen, Germany
  • 6ESA, ESTEC, Keplerlaan 1, 2201 AZ Noordwijk, The Netherlands
  • 7LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, Sorbonne université, Univ. Denis Diderot, F-92195 Meudon, France

We analyzed the participation of women scientists in 10 ESA (European Space Agency) Solar System missions over a period of 38 years [1]. Being part of a spacecraft mission science team can be considered a proxy to measure the "success" in the field. Although the number of female scientists in the field has been constantly increasing in Europe, we did not observe a similar increase in their participation in ESA Solar System missions. Participation of women in PI (Principal Investigators) teams varied between 4 and 25%, with several missions with no women as PI. The percentage of female scientists as Co-I (Co-Investigators) is always less than 16%. This number is lower than the percentage of women in the International Astronomical Union from all ESA Member States (24%).

We compared our results with NASA statistics. Participation of women in NASA spacecraft science teams varies from none to just over 30% [2]. The percentage has been increasing. However, this increase is more similar to a step function than a linear increase, with the pre-2000 average at 5.7% and post-2000 at 15.8%. This is well below the percentage of women in the field in the US, which has grown from 20% to 30% over the same time range. The ESA data are consistent with the NASA data, including the jump around the year 2000.

One of the main difficulties we encountered was to find the list of team members. An additional difficulty was to determine the percentage of female scientists in planetary science in Europe. We would like to encourage the planetary community as a whole, as well as international organizations, universities and societies to continuously gather statistics over many years. Detailed statistics are only the first step to closely monitor the development of achievement gaps and initiate measures to tackle potential causes of inequity, leading to gender inequalities in STEM careers.

[1] Piccialli et al., submitted to ADGEO

[2] Rathbun, Julie A.: Participation of women in spacecraft science teams, Nature Astronomy, Volume 1, id. 0148 (2017).

How to cite: Piccialli, A., Rathbun, J. A., Levasseur-Regourd, A.-C., Määttänen, A., Milillo, A., Rengel, M., Rotundi, A., Taylor, M., Witasse, O., Altieri, F., Drossart, P., and Vandaele, A. C.: Participation of women scientists in ESA Solar System missions: an historical trend, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-19310,, 2020

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Presentation version 1 – uploaded on 01 May 2020
  • CC1: Comment on EGU2020-19310, Kelsi Singer, 05 May 2020

    Thanks for pulling this information together.  For the information about PI's - what roles are considered PI for this study?  In addition to the PI's of "the entire mission", are the other people listed as PI mostly PI's of instrument teams?  And one more question, is a Co-PI for an ESA mission considered the same as a Deputy-PI in the US, or are they considered different positions for this study?  Thanks!

    • AC1: Reply to CC1, Arianna Piccialli, 05 May 2020

      Hi Kelsi,

      Thank you for your comments! Answering your questions:

      1) A typical ESA Solar System mission team consists of a Principal Investigator (PI) for every instrument
      included in the payload; in few cases, there are also Co-Principal Investigators (Co-PIs), counted here as
      PIs. PIs are in charge of proposing the space experiment, with full responsibility for getting funds, building, testing, and analyzing its scientific data. So, I would say that a Co-PI is equivalent of Deputy PI.

      • AC2: Reply to AC1, Anna Milillo, 05 May 2020

        I don't think that a Deputy-PI is the same as PI. In ESA missions the Deputy-PI is just the substitute of the PI when he/her is not available. There is not any official responsibility for deputies.

        • AC3: Reply to AC2, Anna Milillo, 05 May 2020

          sorry I din not finished.
          On the contrary Co-PIs are generally responsible of part of the instrumentation.
          The official contact between ESA and instrument teams are the PIs, but usually Co-PIs are treated as PIs.
          So I think that is quite different from the NASA missions roles

          • CC2: Reply to AC3, Kelsi Singer, 07 May 2020

            Thanks for all of the comments.  And yes, sometimes it gets confusing trying to figure out what are the equivalent roles.  There are always some differences (even bewteen missions in the same country!) as to the roles and titles for the roles.   Happy to discuss more in the future if it would be helpful :).