Season 2, Episode 2 of The Space and Science Show #AskAbby series
Presented by TheMarsGeneration.org
Space Periods Part 2: THE HISTORY
A 1964 report released after the termination of the Women in Space program stated in reference to menstruating female astronauts, that putting a “temperamental psychophysiological human” with a “complicated machine” was a bad idea (cue eye roll). We know that women have faced numerous challenges throughout history in advancing in certain fields…and the space industry is no exception.
This episode includes discussion about topics such as: What were some misconceptions about periods in space in the 1960s? What challenges has this caused for the first female astronauts? How did a woman’s performance compare to a man’s in astronaut training? Why might female candidates actually have an edge over males in space? And how have we progressed since the 196o’s?
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Transcription of SPACE PERIODS, PART 2
*Abby stuffs tampons into her flight suit*
Would you look at this? It’s like flight suits were made to hold tampons. I kid you not. Pockets. Everywhere. Pockets galore. Look at this. Look at this. Look at how many tampons this flight suit can fit.
Today we’re going back in time to the ‘60s to ‘80s to see how the space industry treated menstruating women. Or, as they called them, temperamental psychophysiological humans.
Hello everyone and welcome to #AskAbby where I answer one of your questions about space or science. In our last episode we answered the question “Do women still have periods in space, and if so, how do they manage them?”
The answer is yes, and it’s really not an issue. Go ahead and check out Part 1 to learn all about that.
But today in Part 2 of Periods in Space, we’re going to travel back in time to the ‘60s to ‘80s to learn all about how the space industry handled, or mishandled, the concept of menstruation in space.
As those of you who have seen the movie “Hidden Figures”, lived through that time period, or just know something about history, the ‘60s to ‘80s was not necessarily a very welcoming time for women in a lot of industries, and the space industry was one of them.
While there were women who passed the tests to become an astronaut in the ‘60s (actually with a 68% pass rate as compared to the 56% pass rate of their male counterparts), it took until 1983 for Sally Ride to be the first American woman to go to space. And one of the reasons was periods.
That’s right, a woman’s menstrual cycle was one of the main arguments about why women weren’t fit for space exploration.
For one, they were worried about what would happen with menstrual blood. Quick recap: fluids in space, since there’s microgravity, have a tendency to migrate up towards the top of the body and really collect there. They were worried that period blood wouldn’t flow out, and instead would flow back up in and potentially cause problems.
But guys . . . that’s not how it works.
THAT’S NOT HOW THE BODY WORKS.
There were actually some researchers who felt that because women had fewer heart attacks, and because the cardiovascular effects of space travel weren’t known at the time, that women might be better candidates for space exploration. This research was conducted under the Women in Space program, initiated in 1960, under the premise that from an engineering standpoint, it might be better to send women to space. They weighed less, used less oxygen, and were shown to perform better in isolated spaces.
However, despite these positive results, testing in the program was halted.
In 1964, a report was published after the program was terminated, that stated (without evidence) that putting “a temperamental psychophysiologic human” together with a “complicated machine” was a bad idea.
Say that to my temperamental psychophysiological face.
There has been no evidence — I repeat, absolutely none. Zero. Squelch. Goose eggs. NO evidence that the performance of an astronaut is impaired in any way by her menstrual cycle.
An Astronaut is a trained professional chosen from an immense, enormous group of highly qualified professionals. And she can perform her job regardless of the small inconveniences that a period can cause. Plus, she might not even have to deal with it. We have birth control, we have long acting reversible contraceptives, and who knows what else will develop by the time we’re ready to go to Mars.
Dealing with periods in space is really simple. It’s completely a non-issue.
That’s all the time we have for #AskAbby today. Thank you for joining me and if you haven’t yet, go ahead and check out Part 1 of Periods in Space to learn about how space affects (or doesn’t) a menstrual cycle, and all about period and menstrual suppression.
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Until next time, farewell fellow travelers of spaceship Earth!