Season 2, Episode 2 of The Space and Science Show #AskAbby series
Presented by TheMarsGeneration.org
Space Periods Part 1: THE LOGISTICS
Dealing with menstrual cycles is hard and annoying enough while on Earth (amiright, ladies?). How the heck do female astronauts do it in the radically different conditions of space travel? And do periods even work the same way?
In this episode, Astronaut Abby gives answers to questions like: What options are available to women in space? What is menstrual suppression versus long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)? Are LARCs healthy to use on, say, a 3-year mission to Mars? What about IUDs? What would happen if you needed to get an IUD taken out while up in space? And many more! Also included: a funny anecdote about Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, being asked if 100 tampons would be sufficient for her ONE WEEK long space mission.
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Transcription of SPACE PERIODS, PART 1
So here on AskAbby we’ve talked all about the important changes that happen to the human body while in space: space motion sickness, the effects of radiation, loss of bone mass and muscle density, and even increased flatulence. And today, we have another really important one that we’re going to be talking about, and that’s the menstrual cycle.
That’s right, space periods.
Hello everyone and welcome to Ask Abby, where on Tuesdays, I answer your questions about space and science.
This week’s question is super fun and in my opinion, very important. And it is: “How do women deal with their monthly cycles while in space? Or do they just stop while in space?”
So how women actually deal with periods in space is a pretty simple answer. But let’s just start out by answering the question first: Do women still have their periods in space?
I’m already in love with the idea of going to space, but if I don’t have to deal with that each month? BONUS.
A lot of systems, like the cardiovascular system, do undergo changes, drastic or otherwise, while in space. But the menstrual cycle? Is not one of them. There’s no change to how it acts on Earth. Sorry ladies.
But at least it doesn’t get any worse in Space, right? It just stays the same.
So what do female astronauts do to manage their periods in space? Well, for some female astronauts, especially those on short-term space flights, they just take up pads or tampons and go about their business like usual.
Quick historical anecdote: When Sally Ride, who was the first American woman to launch into space in 1983, was preparing for her missions, flight engineers asked her if for her one week stay in space, 100 tampons would be enough.
*Facepalms* It’s gonna be enough guys.
Their hearts were in the right places, but guys. . . 100 tampons? That’s a lot of blood.
The average cycle takes about 20 tampons. So 100, that’s a little over– overkill. But better safe than sorry, right? For now, let’s return to the present. We’ll go ahead and talk about that time…period… soon enough.
But going back to the question, there’s a much easier route that a lot of female astronauts have chosen to use over the years, especially on longer term missions, and it’s called “menstrual suppression.” Menstrual suppression is where women can use hormones, through a variety of different distribution methods, such as the pill, to change their body chemistry and simply not get their periods.
The most common form of menstrual suppression used is the oral contraceptive pill. Or, as it’s most commonly known, “the pill.” Normally, the pill is a 4 week cycle where for three weeks, you take pills that have a small dosage of hormones in them. And then for one week, you take a placebo or a sugar pill with no hormones. However, if you skip that placebo week and just continue to take the daily dose of hormones, you can convince your body to not have a period.
Even for longer missions, say a 3 year mission to Mars, it’s completely safe and healthy for a woman to do this.
But luckily, there are also other options available. Women can also use LARCs, or “Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives.” These can take the form of an implant in your arm or an IUD, which is inserted through the uterus. Both of these release small amounts of hormones over long periods of time that can stop your period.
The best part is that they are completely maintenance-free, can last years, and have almost no user error possible. Meaning that they are ideal for a long trip to Mars.
The only concern we have right now is how LARCs, or “Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives,” would react to the factors of space travel, such as acceleration. Would they move around or become displaced, and what happens if for some reason, you need to have your IUD removed. You can’t just call up your OB and schedule an appointment to have it taken out.
However, don’t worry. Astronauts onboard the International Space Station are actually already taught how to handle a lot of different medical procedures. And both the removal and insertion of IUDs is actual a very simple medical procedure that astronauts could very easily be taught how to do.
So today we’ve talked about how women currently manage their periods in space, as well as the options that will be available for them in the future.
In Part 2,
we’ll talk about how during the 60s to 80s, there was a lot of false logic about periods in space, and how this actually helped to hinder women from becoming astronauts for nearly two decades.
And as always, if you have a question that you would like to see answered here on AskAbby, you can go ahead and submit it on Twitter using the hashtag #AskAbby, or on TheMarsGeneration.org, which is linked below, by filling out the form there.
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Until next time, farewell fellow travelers of spaceship Earth!