There are over 6,000 women working in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The number of women at the management level has also increased by 59 percent in the past decade. But even with the large number of women working for NASA today, there still seems to be a disconnect between the needs of women astronauts.
Sally Ride was the first female American astronaut to go to space in 1983. NASA engineers sent 100 tampons with her on her 6-day trip, thinking that it would be enough to bring if ever Ride gets her period in space.
NASA Sends 100 Tampons to Space
Sally Ride was the first American woman to ever travel to space. This was about 20 years after Russia sent cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. Tereshkova was the first Russian woman in space. Her trip was scheduled for six days aboard the Challenger on mission STS-7. The assignment was a satellite deployment and retrieval mission.
The mission was the most complex mission NASA has ever done. It was operated by the largest crew flown in a single spacecraft. It was also the mission that ever returned a spacecraft to earth. (Source: NASA)
As part of the preparation for the mission, NASA engineers asked Ride if she needed 100 tampons on the mission. At the time, female menstruating in space was a big concern for NASA. They worried that female astronauts might get too emotional during their cycle, and this may cause them to not properly operate in the space station.
Upon her return, Ride faced questions from the media asking her if she cried when she was under pressure during the trip and if space travel would affect her reproductive organs since she left earth during her menstrual cycle. (Source: Inverse)
How are Women Discriminated in NASA?
Ride’s experience was not the only time female employees encountered such an absurd and borderline offensive treatment in the field of space exploration. There are other times wherein the male-dominated field highlighted sexism and discrimination as a norm.
William Randolph Lovelace II, a specialist in aerospace medicine, studied the effects of space travel on women in the sixties. Lovelace believed that women were better candidates for space travel since they were smaller and lighter. He believed that they might also require less oxygen if they were to travel to space.
Lovelace’s study highlighted sexism in the field. As it turned out, his study was based on the logic that male astronauts would be busy with more important tasks during the flight, so they would need women to fill in menial tasks like answering phones and assisting them in their duties. Though Lovelace’s study was progressive, his reasoning was sexist. He wanted females to travel in space to become space secretaries.
In the late seventies, as NASA was starting to train female astronauts and welcoming the idea of them joining space exploration, they thought of also designing makeup kits. Astronauts were generally given personal hygiene kits. It included toothpaste, deodorant, soap, and a comb. But the female astronauts received full-on makeup kits.
Over the years, NASA has dramatically improved. By eliminating the sexist take on female astronauts there have been many women who played crucial roles in advancing space exploration. Many female astronauts have had their share of spacetime in the twenty-first century. Today, 28 percent of the senior executive leadership positions are women, and there are only 16 percent of senior scientific employees. (Source: Inverse)