One small step for man, one giant leap for womankind!
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing back in 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped off Apollo 11 and on to the surface of the moon. Man setting foot on the moon is without a doubt one of humankind's greatest ventures and has paved the way for women to become astronauts and spacefarers.
In actual fact, the very first woman to go into space was Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian astronaut who was only 26 when she made a solo flight in 1963, 6 years before the moon landing. And our very own cosmonaut Helen Sharman was the first-ever British citizen to go to space back in 1991. These amazing women and so many others continue to inspire young women and girls to venture to infinity and beyond. However, we have one burning question. What happens when you have a period in space?
In 1964, when the Women In Space programme launched, many experts working on the scheme had concerns about the change in gravity being a risk to the budding astronauts’ health. The scientists’ main concern was if microgravity would cause something called ‘retrograde menstruation’. Retrograde menstruation happens when blood flows up the fallopian tubes, into the abdomen and into the pelvic cavity, causing pain and potentially other serious health conditions.
However, there was no scientific evidence to support these claims and no way of finding out until they entered the intergalactic atmosphere. The women on the programme expressed to the team that there had been many concerns regarding men’s health when first going to space and they still went anyway. In fact, many of the women experienced all different kinds of prejudice. There were genuine concerns from men about the ‘temperamental’ nature of the female body, i.e that women are hormonal because it would hinder their ability to operate the complex machinery.
One report released in 1971, even suggested that the prospect of having female astronauts as part of the crew would improve ‘crew morale’ because they could donate their energies to male astronauts to release, and quote, ‘sexual tension’ onboard (erm...EWWW?!). It’s clear from this OBVIOUS form of sexism in the workplace that the general concerns for the participants’ uteri were not purely in regards to their health.
Sally Ride, who was the first American woman to go into space said this in an interview after she completed her mission:
"I remember the engineers trying to decide how many tampons should fly on a one-week flight; they asked, 'Is 100 the right number?’ No. That would not be the right number."
Proving how little knowledge the scientists running the programme had about menstruation. One method that was tested to reduce the number of periods the astronauts would have, involved them having used contraception such as an IUD or continuously taking the contraceptive pill. The slight problem is that for a 3-year expedition they would need 1,100 pills which would be even more waste on boards.
So finally, what actually does happen while you menstruate in space?
Nothing! The female body operates just as it would on earth. According to Varsha Jain, M.D from King’s College London, who researches ‘space gynaecology’ (yes it’s a thing), told SELF that "The female reproductive cycle actually is one of the systems in the human body that is just not impacted by being in space”. This may be somewhat anticlimactic but actually it’s kind of amazing. Just think, your body can outsmart even the wonders of space so it can do exactly what it needs to do. We think that’s pretty awesome.
Feel to drop us a comment to let us know you think about intergalactic periods. Share this post with your friends on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, in case you’re planning an out-of-this-world girly getaway to Mars anytime soon.
Meet the Author
Jess is our Content & Community executive who writes about, well ...everything! She loves talking about period positivity and body positivity and, let's face it, loves a good debate. When she isn't talking about all things BeYou, she has probably got her nose in a book, cuddling her Jack Russell Terrier, Buster 🧚♀🐶📖