"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
But what about 'woman'kind?
As America, and along with it the entire world, celebrated man's first steps on the moon, some raised questions about the treatment space programs have meted out to women astronauts. In an essay in New York Times, Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Mary Robinette Kowal wrote about the gender discrimination in NASA's space programs, sparking a discussion about how women pee in space.
Kowal wrote how the 1969 mission to the moon was "designed by men, for men" and how it systematically left women out. Her critique led many to argue that women were not sent to space because there was no technology to allow them to urinate in zero-gravity.
Taking on the issue, Kowal wrote a long thread on Twitter about the time and effort it took for NASA to develop the technology that would allow men to pee in space without wetting their spacesuits, which is exactly what they did until then.
Let's talk about peeing in space.
Several people, in response to my NY Times essay, have said that women couldn't go into space because we lacked the technology for them to pee in space.— Mary Robinette Kowal (@MaryRobinette) July 19, 2019
Kowal described how the issue of zero-gravity had been one of the main concerns of scientists as it could impede not just defecation but also swallowing. When the first American was sent to space, no peeing mechanism was built in the space-suit, which means the astronaut wet himself in space.
She went on to talk not just about peeing but also 'pooping'. "They had to tape a bag to their ass to poop. That worked well for Gemini and Mercury. And by well, I mean there was still urine in the capsule and it stank of feces. Apollo needed a different solution."
Soon, they developed a method to pee into a valve and release the valve's content into space. Kowal revealed that the second man on space, Buzz Aldrin, was actually the first one to pee on it. Typical human.
Open the valve a fraction too late, and urine escaped to float around the cabin.
Open it too early and the vacuum of space reached through the valve to grab your manhood.
Apparently, the venting of pee into space is very pretty. It catches the sunlight and sparkles.— Mary Robinette Kowal (@MaryRobinette) July 19, 2019
The author also explained how Fred Haise got sick, as in Apollo13 the film.
"After the accident, they couldn't use the regular vent, because it needed to be heated to keep the pee from freezing. The alternate system caused droplets to float around the ship. Mission Control told them to stop dumping pee." ...The fastest option was to store it in the collection bags they wore in their suits. Haise kept his on for hours and hours, basically bathing in pee. He got a UTI and then a kidney infection."
It was not until NASA decided to send women to space a decade later that they came up with MAG, the Maximum Absorbency Garment which Kowal explained was basically a diaper that could allow those without a penis to pee. The suits were more comfortable than the the method used by men and so they too adopted the MAG. In time, scientists came up with zero gravity toilets.
Finally, a decade later, NASA decides to send women into space. NOW they have a reason to come up with how to handle peeing in space if you don't have a penis.
To launch and for a spacewalk, they developed the MAG
Maximum Absorbency Garment.
It's a diaper.— Mary Robinette Kowal (@MaryRobinette) July 19, 2019
Kowal, who is an award winning science fiction author, provides several additional tit-bits of information regarding floating urine globules and floating poop that resembles a milk dud. However, the point of the thread is that it wasn't the lack of technology that kept women from going into space. Despite not having the tech to pee, men were still actively sent to space.
What about periods in space? - According to women who have been there, "It's just like a period on Earth."
It turns out menstrual blood moves via a wicking action. Gravity can speed that up, but is unnecessary.
Also, tampons exist.— Mary Robinette Kowal (@MaryRobinette) July 19, 2019
"And some days, the best solution is still a diaper or a bag taped to the ass".
Kowal's scorching burn comes in the backdrop of plans to send the first woman to the moon as part of the Trump administration's Project Artemis, which will "return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024". It goes on to show that the creating technology for women to pee or menstruate in space alone is also not enough. In her NYT article, Kowal pointed out how the design and size of space suits was male-oriented, citing a recent example when a space walk by two women on the International Space Station had to be cancelled because of unavailability of the right suit size.
"This is not an indictment of NASA in 2019," Kowal wrote. "But it does demonstrate a causal chain that begins with the Apollo program and leads through to present-day."
Sending the first woman to space may help the state administration and NASA assume the gender empowerment tag, but the long journey it took us to come here is definitely worth studying.