Everybody knows that the body structures of men and women are different. But we are not here to discuss whether women and men are equal in this society, but you have to imagine that sometimes, women are forced to handle a situation differently than a man. This happens when you are an astronaut too!
American woman astronaut Sally Ride, after her mission to Space in 1983, had to face several awkward questions from the interviewers including whether she would be able to control the machine properly and think logically during periods.
She replied that it is quite unfortunate that the society is still backward and this is considered to be such a big deal. There was one important question though and that was how women canhandle periods in space.
Surprisingly, NASA hasn’t yet been able to develop a proper solution. The most obvious solution is to not send women to space and that is what NASA used to do in the past, since during periods, a woman might not be able to think logically and make a wrong decision which can be catastrophic to the mission.
Another problem is zero gravity. While there is no proof yet, some people used to believe that menstrual blood might flow back up in space. Hence, not sending women to space seemed to be a logical option for several years.
But now women are sent to space. According to Rhea Seddon, a member of Ride’s astronaut class, she isn’t quite sure who was the first woman to experience periods in space but every woman has said that periods in space is similar to that back on Earth.
Dr. Varsha Jain, a space gynaecologist and Virginia Wotring, a space pharmacologist, have done extensive research on how to solve this problem of periods in space. Their research was even published in the journal Microgravity. Their research showed that female astronauts take contraceptive pills during their space mission, but they don’t take any placebo pills, which can solve the problem of menstruation.
Although this works fine at the moment, in the future, when female astronauts have to go on longer missions, such as the Mars mission, this can be a serious problem, since the Mars mission is estimated to last for at least 3 years. After some calculations, it has been seen that around 1,100 pills are required if the current process is used. Intake of so many pills can lead to serious problems, and it also leads to increase in weight. You definitely don’t want this happening to you while you are in space.
Reversible contraceptives, which work for a long time, such as hormonal IUDs, injections of progestin etc. are probably the best solution at the moment. While the injections will continue working for 3 months, it has its own set of side effects such as lowering bone density, which is a bigger problem for people in space since zero gravity already has this effect on the body. The implants will work for a maximum of 3 years and the hormonal IUDs for at least 5 years, but we don’t yet know what kind of side effects they might produce.
Since the side effects are not yet known, it is extremely risky to offer that as a solution to an astronaut. Just imagine that she finds out after going to space that they have serious side effects and she might need to be admitted to a hospital soon. How will that happen in space?
According to Jain and Wotring’s study, women should be allowed to take the decisions themselves. They know what’s best for them, and they should have the freedom to choose what method she wants to use considering that she will be staying in space for a long period of time.