We were wondering if periods function the same way on earth as in outer space. Turns out the problems aren’t in anti-gravity but in regressive attitudes around menstruation on Earth! Read on as we explore what astronauts have to go through just because men don’t educate themselves around normalizing periods.
Do you get periods in space? How astronauts deal with menstruation.
Saba Malik is a currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in English honours and psychology from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University. She is an avid advocate of awareness for women’s health and gender issues. She is a baking enthusiast and loves reading and writing about issues concerning women.
In 1961 cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man ever to go into space, and Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to go into space 2 years later. According to a 2011 report, by NASA 355 is the actual number of individual astronauts and cosmonauts who have flown on the space shuttle. That breaks down to 306 men and only 49 women. The disparity between the two genders isn’t breaking news by any standard.
For a long time, women astronauts weren’t sent into space or sent on more extended missions because you guessed it, the most intelligent men working on travel in outer space were squeamish about how menstruation would work in space. Until one brave woman became famous for her tampons. Sally Ride became the first woman to menstruate in space. This came with its own set of challenges like figuring out how many tampons she would need, how she would dispose them off, and technicalities like its cost and weight.
Firstly let’s answer the question that brought you here, do you get periods in space? Well, the answer is: Yes. Are they any different than earth periods? No. Surprised? The female reproductive system is largely immune to the lack of gravity, the blood doesn’t flow back and cause damage, and you still get cramps. So how do astronauts deal with it?
The answer to this question comes down to personal preference and comfort. There are two options: having periods in space and dealing with its challenges or not having periods by taking pills or LARCs such as IUD.
The women who decide to menstruate in space feel that it’s a natural process and shouldn’t be tampered with and find mental solace. But it is way more challenging to manage the sanitary needs than when you’re on Earth. The waste disposal systems on these missions aren’t designed for menstrual blood. It is made so as to reclaim the water to be used again since only limited water supply is on board. Dealing with your period is never fun, but dealing with it while you’re on an expedition of a lifetime? Not to mention the number of products that would have to be carried would tamper with space, weight, and cost constraints.
The other option is to not have periods altogether. Many find it a nuisance to deal with periods every month regardless of whether you’re in space or in a comfy blanket at home. No research says it is essential to bleed every month or not doing so adversely affects a woman’s health. This has led many women to question the need for monthly menses and more and more on Earth are opting out of them too. Administering the pill everyday without giving a break for bleeding is at present the most tested, doable and safest choice for women in space who prefer to not menstruate during missions, says Varsha Jain, a gynaecologist and visiting professor at King’s College London. But this isn’t complication-free either. Say you’ve got a long mission to Mars that will take approximately three years and require about 1,100 pills, leading to extra “cost, up-mass, packaging, and waste” during a mission. This is why the other option is long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) agents, implants that are typically put under the skin or within the uterus to slowly release menstruation suppressing hormones, may be more convenient. Within this, the most popular option is an IUD (intrauterine device), which is surgically inserted into the uterus and lasts for 3 to 5 years. Be that as it may, the capacity to stifle a woman’s period enormously relies upon the sort of IUD utilised. There are two sorts of IUDs: copper and hormonal, with the latter more successful. Sub-dermal inserts are another alternative and are sheltered to use for as long as three years. Finally, we come to injections; specifically the depo shot. Depo-Provera is a hormone infusion like progesterone. It must be taken once every 12 weeks and can be securely utilised for upto 3 years. But there is still a lot of research needed to figure out how each contraceptive method affects bone density. The injections adversely affect bone density, which is already compromised due to gravity and thus don’t make the most practical sense even though they are long-lasting.
With all the aerospace research advancements, we still have so many unanswered questions when it comes to women’s health. 37 years ago a gay woman took the first step towards making it clear that women can do everything that a man can and being a woman is not a disadvantage like the society keeps telling us. Maybe if the society considered women’s health as essential and not a private shush-able topic, we would have the answers to some of those questions.
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