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What on Earth was she thinking?

That is how many people reacted when they heard what Judith Lapierre planned to do: live for 110 straight days in a tiny capsule in a Moscow hangar with six men. No phone, no sunlight, food rations -- and just her, 4 foot 10 and 88 pounds, with all those men. What was she thinking?

The answer, Dr. Lapierre said simply, is science.

"It was a highly controlled, highly selected scientific environment," she said. "To say I should have expected what happened -- why should I have expected that, from serious scientists?"

What happened was sexual harassment by a fellow member of the experiment, a Russian cosmonaut who, on New Year's Eve, dragged Dr. Lapierre to the one area of the module where there were no surveillance cameras and forcibly kissed her twice. And violence: In a separate incident, two cosmonauts got into a bloody fight and had to be restrained by other men.

That, she explained yesterday by telephone, in her first interview since she got home to Gatineau, Que., on Friday, was bad enough. But the Russian research institute running the experiment took no action for 10 days, did not censure the brawlers or the cosmonaut commander who assaulted her -- and when Dr. Lapierre spoke about what happened, after the experiment ended, the Russian scientists denied it and called her a hysteric.

When she heard about the isolation experiment run by the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems, she jumped at the chance to do more research on human health and behaviour in confinement.

"In Canada, they do a one-week exercise in isolation, so I knew if I had a chance to do three months, I would have a better chance" of becoming an astronaut, she said.

She knew what she was going into; she read the results of every study ever done on confinement and isolation, and conducted research of her own, including a trip to Antarctica to study researchers based there. There had been no incident of violence or harassment in any experiment before -- no surprise, she said, because it wasn't expected from a team of specially selected scientists.

And her experiment went fine, at first. Even the "incident" was bearable: but "the fact that they were minimizing it, not taking it seriously -- that was more shocking than the events."

The Japanese space program, informed of the New Year's Eve incident, convened an emergency meeting on Jan. 2 to address what it viewed as a total breakdown in confined-living experiments. The Japanese team member quit, shocked by the Russian inaction. Dr. Lapierre, with her goal of going into space, stuck it out. The Canadian Space Agency, her sponsor, sent an envoy, a week later, after repeated phone calls from Dr. Lapierre's husband, to talk to the Russian organizers.

Then when she emerged from the capsule, she faced the accusations that she was lying; when that was cleared up, there was still the lingering impression she had overreacted: It was just a kiss, after all.

"It's the opposite," she said. "My reaction was tempered because I knew I had to go on living there. We proposed the measures we did because we knew we had to go on living there for 80 days."

Ten days after the fight, the doors between the Russian team's chamber and that of Dr. Lapierre were barred, in response, she stressed, to the violence, not to the assault on her.

She has heard, in the two weeks since she emerged from the capsule, a lot of talk about whether men and women should be mixed in such environments. Submarines, for example, are still male-only.

"But that's a military environment," she said heatedly. "Space is not so military any more; it's about science and the survival of humanity. We need women. That women should not be there, when you are looking at human survival -- how can you say that?"

The others in the experiment all viewed the participation of a woman as a favourable factor, she said, describing with a laugh how, in her capsule, they rearranged the furniture, put posters on the wall and put a tablecloth on the kitchen table.

"We adapted our environment, whereas the Russians just viewed it as something to be endured. We decorated for Christmas, because I'm the kind of person who likes to host people."

Ironically, it was at one of those social events, a New Year's Eve party, that the cosmonaut commander went after Dr. Lapierre.

She was very aware going into the program that she would be the only woman. Space is still a male world and she's used to it, she said; in her program at the space university, only 5 per cent of participants were women. "I was not blind."

The Russians had been paternalistic the whole way along. She saw communication that referred to her as "just a nurse" despite the fact that she was the only research participant with a doctoral degree.

She was prepared for jokes, for harassment, for doubts and for having to work twice as hard. But "not to have it touch me, not to be pulled by force."

Nonetheless, she would not have taken action on the forced embrace if she'd been on her own, she said, "because I knew they would blame everything on me, because I'm a woman."

However, her Austrian and Japanese colleagues were similarly outraged, and together, the three wrote a letter to the experiment co-ordinators, demanding to know how they could proceed as scientists in an environment where scientific protocol, indeed human rights, were not respected.

But in the end, "I look worse, and it doesn't give credit to my work," she said, weary, sad and sick of talking about it.

She wonders how women can be expected to participate in interplanetary missions if they know that this behaviour is to expected or that there are no rules.

The Russians are the world experts on psychological support for long-term crews. Dr. Lapierre, who had been to Russia three times before and learned the language, said she was ready for cultural differences. But the Russians were not prepared to respect international rules in their chamber, she said.

"They were responsible for treating subjects equally as the host institution, for dealing with it ethically," she said. "This shows their standards don't apply to international crews; it's proving we need more experience" before international crews can safely staff a space station.

Dr. Lapierre is to give a press conference in Hull today because, she said, she needs to "give the facts" about what happened in Russia.

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