2019 saw a lot of firsts in the world, including the first NASA spacewalk in which 2 women ventured into the unknown – unaccompanied by a man
On October 18, Christiana Koch and Jessica Meir walked into space to replace a battery unit on the space station’s solar power system.
This was the 227th spacewalk since 1965, and yet it was the first to only include female astronauts.
Believe it or not, the mission was originally scheduled for March of 2019 – but the operation had to be postponed. The reason? NASA announced that they had a lack of ‘small enough spacesuits’ for the mission to take place!
Koch was initially meant to be accompanied by astronaut Anne McClain, who was thought to be a size large. However, when it became clear she needed a medium – which wasn’t available – McClain’s journey was cancelled, and she was replaced by a male astronaut.
Many in the media asked – why was there no smaller suit on hand? Why the abundance of large and extra large, but so few mediums and smalls (usually worn by female astronauts)? When NASA had to cut costs, they scrapped the small size completely.
This is certainly not the first time that women’s bodies and health needs have been misunderstood in space
Sally Ride became the first American astronaut in space in 1983, and she was famously asked by male supervisors if 100 – 200 tampons would be enough for her one week in space!
Things are starting to change, thankfully, and Koch and Meir’s successful spacewalk proves this.
In fact, some experts have even proposed that all-female crews could be even more cost effective. On average, women are lighter than men, and require 15- 20% less energy, calories, and oxygen to survive each day.
On that note, some researchers have begun to study how space travel could potentially affect women’s bodies differently than their male counterparts.
In terms of fertility, this is a hot topic . . . while studies have been carried out on male astronauts’ sperm counts after space, no such studies have been carried out on women.
It has been shown that the quality and count of sperm decreases after a man has been in space. This seems to regenerate when back down on Earth, so there are no long term ill effects.
However, women are born with their lifetime supply of eggs, so space could possibly damage their reproductive abilities. For this reason, NASA will freeze the eggs of any women who venture into space.
As more women blast off into – and walk through – space, more research is certainly going to be needed.