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How space affects women and men differently



  Dr. Warsaw Jain at the Johnson Space Center

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Dr. Warsaw Jain stands in front of an Orion crew module at the John Nason Space Center

About 564 people were in space ̵

1; 65 of them women. This is despite the fact that the first woman in space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, went into orbit as early as 1963.

It took us 20 years to catch up and in 1983 Sally Reed became the third woman and the first American to go into space. Prior to her trip, she was asked by the media if she had taken makeup during her trip and if she was crying when there were malfunctions in the flight simulator.

On Friday, October 18, Nasa held the world's first space shuttle after plans were scrapped earlier this year because of a lack of mid-size suits to fit one of the astronauts.

For the last decade, Dr. Warsaw Jain has been working part-time as a space gynecologist. She combines her doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh's Center for Reproductive Health at the Center for Reproductive Health with research, along with NASA's Women's Health in Space.

She spoke with Emma Barnett on BBC Radio 5 live.

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NASA

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Six of Nasa's first female astronauts in January 1978. Sally Reed is second from right

Does space affect men and women differently?

VJ: The overall adaptation to the cosmic environment is approximately the same for men and women, but there are some differences.

Women are more likely to become ill when they go into space, men are more likely to get sick on re-entry when they return to Earth.

Men have more problems with their vision and hearing when returning from a space that women do not receive. When women return, they have problems managing their blood pressure so that they feel quite at ease.

So there are some subtle differences, and we do not know if this is due to hormonal differences or more physiological changes that occur. And a long-term understanding of these differences will help us understand more about the health of humans on Earth.

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NASA

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Jessica Meir (L) and Christina Koch performed the first all-female space shuttle on October 18

How about periods in space?

VJ: When the Americans sent Sally Ride up into space, the questions Nasa had were what would happen to women's periods and how to account for it. [19659005] Female astronauts said at the time, "let's consider it problematic until it becomes a problem." But space travel is a bit like camping, and engineers had to plan things like how many sanitary products are needed.

Since this was a male-dominated world, the numbers they thought were 100 or 200 swabs in a week! They soon came to the conclusion that many were unnecessary.

Most female astronauts now use contraceptive pills to stop their periods and it's safe for them to be healthy women.

One part of my job was to explore other ways women could stop their periods to see if things like the contraceptive coil could be more effective.

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NASA

Image caption [19659003] The toilet in the space module of the International Space Station

Why Are Toilets In Space Sometimes A Challenge For Women?

VJ: There are two toilets on the International Space Station, but engineers initially did not count blood.

In space, urine is not lost, recycled and water is recovered from it. Periodic blood is considered a solid material and no toilet in the space station can distinguish the solid from the liquid material, which is why the water in it is lost and recycled.

There are also restrictions on how water can be used for washing, so that the practicality of personal hygiene during menstruation during space flight can be challenging.

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NASA

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American astronaut Sally Riding aboard the seventh shuttle mission

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SPL

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Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly into space in 1963.

Does space travel affect your ability to have children?

VJ: There is no apparent demonstrative effect that space travel has on an astronaut's ability to have children. It is important to remember that both male and female astronauts have successfully had children after space flight missions.

However, female astronauts are on average 38 years old on their first mission.

This is an area where I think Nasa is a leader in creating a supportive work environment. After all, freezing eggs or sperm is an entirely personal choice and, to my knowledge, NASA has no protocols on what their astronauts should do before space flight.

We know that astronauts are at risk of radiation in space and we have no idea how this will affect the fertility of women.

Sperm quality and sperm count decrease after space travel, but then the sperm are regenerated back to Earth, so no long-term damage is known. Women are born with all the eggs they need for their entire lives, so Nasa is very supportive of female astronauts who freeze their eggs before their missions.

How did you become a Space Gynecologist?

VJ: My interest in space came before my fascination with medicine. As a kid, my brothers were in Star Trek, and seeing strong female characters like Beverly Crowther and Captain Catherine Geneway really inspired me and shaped my goals.

I knew that I wanted to work in the field of space medicine and because at that time practicing gynecology, I found a huge gap in knowledge regarding women's health, which I considered a deserved platform.

My first day in Nasa, I was like a kid in a candy store. Moving to Nasa Johnson Space Center, I saw the sign for the first time, I remember screaming because I was so excited. Every day I remember waking up at 5:00 because I just couldn't wait to get into work.

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Media caption Nasa astronaut Karen Nieberg went into space when her son was 3.

Could you go into space yourself?

VJ: Not for a long-term mission! I know too much about physiological changes and this repels me.

The changes that happen to the human body are like an accelerated aging process. If we take bone changes, astronauts lose bone when they go into space and portions of that bone mass never return, despite the excellent measures and programs that astronauts have when they return.

Obviously I would like to see what Earth looks like from space, but in the long run as a goal, I think I know that I am already doing my dream job.

Dr. Warsaw Jain was one of them the first academic doctors to focus on the study of women's health in space. She is currently a Research Fellow for 2019 at the MRC Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh. study why women suffer from severe menstrual bleeding.

Emma Barnett's show is on BBC Radio 5 Monday – Thursday 10:00 – 13:00 BST. Click here to listen to 5 special live news on BBC Sounds: The Women of Nasa.


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