May 27, 2024

The Important Reason Why 2 Menstrual Cups Took A Rocket Tour

Have you ever wondered how people manage their periods in space? Thankfully, astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti came to the rescue before with an explanation, which basically found, “Just like you do on earth.” But it’s no secret that many of the legacy systems on spacecraft were designed without women in mind. In a demonstration of their space potential and to reopen the conversation about menstrual choice for astronauts, researchers recently launched a pair of menstrual cups heading towards the troposphere.

The history of mission controllers trying to meet the needs of female astronauts is full of good intentions, but that doesn’t equate to an understanding of how menstruation actually works. Who is entitled to forget the case of Sally Ride, the first American woman shortly in space, who asked well-meaning engineers if 100 tampons would be a suitable supply for a week’s flight?

“It’s not. That’s not the right number,” Ride responded, as she recalled in a statement an interview in 2002, going on to explain that they could very safely cut it in half.

These days, the situation has improved, but for shorter missions, it is common for astronauts who menstruate to stop their periods with hormonal treatment for the time they are in space. For longer missions, tampons and pads are available, but waste disposal is not without cost. With the push towards more sustainable menstrual products for Gravity, astronomer Lígia Fonseca Coelho could see no reason why these same options would not one day be available to astronauts.

“If you say to a woman, ‘you have to suspend your reproductive system for five years and this is the only way you can go to Mars,’ we will have problems,” said Coelho in a. statement. And so, AstroCup was born.

The AstroCup team designed and built six a container which would carry and monitor two menstrual cups launched as experimental payloads on Portugal’s Baltasar rocket, which successfully reached an altitude of 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) in October 2022.

After receiving offers from several menstrual cup manufacturers, the Finnish company Lunette was chosen for the experimental flight. After enduring a few minutes of microgravity, as well as all the turbulence of a rocket launch, the cups were retrieved and tested to make sure they were still functional.

“They performed very well,” Coelho said. “We now know that cups made by Lunette, and probably other brands, are very resilient to the turbulence and microgravity of a rocket launch.”

The next step is to get menstrual cups on the International Space Station, to see how they fare under long-term radiation exposure. The AstroCup team is currently in negotiations to try and make that happen.

This isn’t the first time Coelho has turned her mind to solving problems for space travel, and it wasn’t her first payload experiment rodeo either – she previously worked on a team that sent photosynthetic microbes to the space on board Blue Origin’s New Shepard, an experiment that could develop the new food sources for astronauts.

Essentially, it’s about finding ways to allow long-duration space travelers some of the comforts of home.

“It will already be uncomfortable not to have air to breathe, not to have water from a natural source to drink. They will not have the same amount of gravity. Sleep will be strange,” explained Coelho.

“Let’s make them as comfortable as possible so they can carry out their normal human processes in a positive way, so they can focus on finding life on Mars, building the colony, getting us into the next frontier .”

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