Women in Space! Doesn’t everyone want to grow up to be an astronaut?
With a new series of Star Trek: Discovery on the way – dropping on Netflix UK in January 2020 – there’s a lot of real-life Space news to keep up with.
Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir have recently made history by completing the first ever all-female spacewalk.
Koch and Meir spent seven hours outside the International Space Station, replacing a failed power control unit. Koch already had four spacewalks under her belt, but it was the first for Meir – making her the 15th woman to walk in Space.
The first woman to spacewalk was Svetlana Savitskaya – she went outside the USSR’s Salyut 7 space station for three hours, 35 minutes in 1984.
One of the barriers that women have faced in previous Space missions is having equipment available that’s designed for their physique – for example, space suits are often too large for women to wear. The good news is that NASA has developed a new spacesuit that gives the wearer a customised fit – whatever the shape or size. NASA expects these new suits to be available for the mission that will put astronauts back on the moon.
The history of women in Space
At last count, 564 people have been into space – 65 of them women.
The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova – she went into orbit in 1963. Svetlana Savitskaya was the second woman in Space, her mission was in 1982. The third woman in Space, in 1983, was Sally Ride.
Ride was the first astronaut who identified as part of the LGBTQ community.
How does a Space mission physically impact a woman?
Dr Varsha Jain is a space gynaecologist, working with NASA to research women’s health in Space.
Speaking to the BBC, Dr Jain confirms that spending time in Space impacts men and women differently.
“There are some subtle differences…” explains Dr Jain. “We don’t know if that’s to do with hormonal differences or more physiological changes that are occurring.”
The practicalities of a woman having periods while on a Space mission is something that NASA has considered carefully.
“Most female astronauts now use the contraceptive pill to stop their periods…” says Dr Jain. “It’s safe for them to do so because they’re healthy women.”
“There is no obvious demonstrable effect that going into space has on an astronaut’s ability to have children…” continues Dr Jain. “Both male and female astronauts have successfully had children after spaceflight missions. Female astronauts are, on average, 38 years old during their first mission.”