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Is 100 the right number?
July 1, 2014 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Astronaut Sally Ride and the Burden of Being The First. 'Tampons were packed with their strings connecting them, like a strip of sausages, so they wouldn’t float away. Engineers asked Ride, “Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them. At every turn, her difference was made clear to her. When it was announced Ride had been named to a space flight mission, her shuttle commander, Bob Crippen, who became a lifelong friend and colleague, introduced her as “undoubtedly the prettiest member of the crew.” At another press event, a reporter asked Ride how she would react to a problem on the shuttle: “Do you weep?”'
posted by kmz (95 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hope she told them that 42 was the right number.
posted by srboisvert at 11:55 AM on July 1 [10 favorites]


Engineers asked Ride, “Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them. The mind boggles and I am amused. I hope she made them use their brains to figure it out themselves.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:57 AM on July 1


“Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them.

God this is so so so funny. I had a class trip that coincided with my second period ever. I was completely clueless as to what I needed to pack with me, my mom was for whatever reason not participating in my packing, and my dad ended up sending me with four boxes (of 20 each) of tampons for a four day trip. Which were, of course, emptied out into a 2 gallon ziplock bag for better packability and waterproofing.

Unpacking that night at our campsite: shower shoes, towel, pajamas, GIGANTIC BAG OF TAMPONS, toothbrush, socks...
posted by phunniemee at 11:57 AM on July 1 [31 favorites]


Hey, you never know when you are going to have an emergency gunshot wound to treat. Especially if you are asking clueless questions about a woman's period.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:59 AM on July 1 [32 favorites]


It used to be “difficult to choose women because of their lack of qualification,” NASA’s first flight director, Christopher Kraft, told ABC News after the agency announced its new astronaut class would contain six women and four minority men.

Weird. I'd have thought there would be a tremendous amount of qualified female applicants for a position in a program where it was made clear for decades that women weren't accepted, weren't welcome, and wouldn't be treated as equals even if they did somehow make it into the astronaut program, so they shouldn't even consider trying to participate. Like a few binders full of applicants, at least.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:03 PM on July 1 [56 favorites]


... Bob Crippen, who became a lifelong friend and colleague, introduced her as “undoubtedly the prettiest member of the crew.”

For sure.
posted by General Tonic at 12:15 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Cool, there's a book out about her!

Mike Mullane was a NASA astronaut in the same class as Sally ride and his book, Riding Rockets, mentions some of the things the female astronauts had to deal, though he was more friends with Judy Resnick, the second American woman in space and didn't seem to care for Ride all that much.

Resnick had very long hair and one of the camera's jammed because of the hair, during a mission. Resnick basically put the fear of God into all the other astronauts, including the Commander, for fear that this would be a mark against female astronauts. There was a lot of outright sexist comments, which Ride managed to deflate with a look, but Resnick was more of the flirtatious type and able to give the shit right back, which made her more popular, but she still got shit too.

Some of the incidents were just amusing, in the sense that mean and women had to work together as equals, so things were awkward. There was one training situation there Mullane and other astronaut were training for emergency EVA and Resnick was helping them get in and out of their suits, which involved stripping down. The two male astronauts were suddenly uncomfortable, while Resnick's attitude was 'I'm here and we're all equals, so lets get on with the normal procedures'. Heh.

Though Mullane didn't seem to like Ride much, he does make it clear that he was a major sexist asshole at the time and Ride always knew her shit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:18 PM on July 1 [10 favorites]


That's an odd picture of the crew, General Tonic. I'm not sure if the shuttle is going to land on them or if it photobombed them.

“Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them.

I wonder how the Soviets handled the issue. Valentina Tereshkova only flew for three days but Svetlana Savitskaya was up for 19.
posted by bondcliff at 12:22 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


I had a class trip that coincided with my second period ever. I was completely clueless as to what I needed to pack with me, my mom was for whatever reason not participating in my packing, and my dad ended up sending me with four boxes (of 20 each) of tampons for a four day trip. Which were, of course, emptied out into a 2 gallon ziplock bag for better packability and waterproofing.

I can very much see something like this happening with my daughter, for whom puberty is fast approaching. Although if I had a little advance warning I would Google it, or maybe use an AskMe.
posted by TedW at 12:22 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


“undoubtedly the prettiest member of the crew.”

For sure.


Oh Zeus, the false and hideous expressions on the males!

Like the smiles of the damned.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:26 PM on July 1


I wonder how the Soviets handled the issue. Valentina Tereshkova only flew for three days but Svetlana Savitskaya was up for 19.

One option would be hormonal birth control; just skip the fake pills till you return. Take that, Hobby Lobby!
posted by TedW at 12:29 PM on July 1 [12 favorites]


Sluuuuts in Spaaaace!
posted by BlueHorse at 12:30 PM on July 1 [10 favorites]


I love the mental image of hundreds of tampons floating around inside a space shuttle, spinning around to the tune of the Blue Danube Waltz.

(Unsolicited advice for anyone with a daughter approaching puberty and isn't sure what to get: Always Infinity pads, yo. And get some applicator-style tampons but don't be surprised if your kid is hesitant to use them at first.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:30 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]


"Do you weep?"

"Only for people who ask foolish questions like that."
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:32 PM on July 1 [5 favorites]


I wonder how the Soviets handled the issue. Valentina Tereshkova only flew for three days but Svetlana Savitskaya was up for 19.

Well, you probably don't need 19 days' worth of tampons unless you're on some extra-annoying form of birth control. (Yep, it happens.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:34 PM on July 1


The strange and disturbing thing about this article, as a kid who grew up idolizing the space program, is that the sexism around the early astronaut women was completely invisible. It seems obvious now, but at the time, it just felt like - of course there were woman astronauts! The space program was all about progress toward the future, and in the future, we'd be rid of all that old-fashioned sexism crap, wouldn't we? So it simply never occurred to me that the women in the astronaut corps had the same old nonsense to deal with, and that the ones who made it through had triumphed over some pretty significant ignorance to get there. It just seemed like further proof that the space program was a place for smart people doing awesome futuristic things.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:39 PM on July 1 [7 favorites]


Well, you probably don't need 19 days' worth of tampons unless you're on some extra-annoying form of birth control.

Well, no, but it's more likely you're gonna get your period during that, um, period than you would on a three day flight, so it's probably something that needed to be considered and growing up in America during the cold war we were taught that the Soviets didn't give a rats ass about Cosmonaut comfort. So I'm curious.

Also I grew up with no sisters, an older mom who didn't talk about such things, and I've only ever had to buy tampons for my wife once so I honestly have no clue what the "right number" would be and I should probably just drop this whole line of questioning.
posted by bondcliff at 12:40 PM on July 1


Cool, there's a book out about her!

Also a song, by Metafilter's favourite android, Janelle Monae.
posted by daveje at 12:41 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


Wow I hearted Sally Ride before I even knew about her sarcastic rejoinders.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:43 PM on July 1 [5 favorites]


Bringing new meaning to the word Mooncup...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:47 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


It just seemed like further proof that the space program was a place for smart people doing awesome futuristic things.

Now I'm curious, where there women astronauts on the Moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Or were they resigned to be flight attendants on the Pan Am shuttles or administrators on the rotating space station?
posted by bondcliff at 12:49 PM on July 1


I figured the Soviets would have a female cosmonaut before the USA, but I didn't realise they did it by 20 years. Wow.
posted by squinty at 12:52 PM on July 1


Actually, it would be pretty cool to have a commercial in space for pads. It would start with a beautiful shot of our little planet just a'floating in space, which dissolves/morphs into an image of a perfect little sphere of blue water, which floats towards a rotating pad sort of like the Star-Child at the end of 2001, with Also Sprach Zarathustra building to a climax as the droplet and pad meet in a symbiotic unity of absorption with the crash of the cymbals. Any takers?
posted by ReeMonster at 12:54 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]


I figured the Soviets would have a female cosmonaut before the USA, but I didn't realise they did it by 20 years. Wow.

Eh, but they've only flown two women since 1963. The US has flown about 50 since Ride's 1983 flight.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:04 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


Actually, it would be pretty cool to have a commercial in space for pads.

This would have been great with blue water and a pad.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:10 PM on July 1


Ah, I didn't realise they only did two. Wikipedia has a list by nationality. The Soviets apparently had four other women recruited with Valentina Tereshkova but they never actually got sent into space.
posted by squinty at 1:13 PM on July 1


My favorite part of the women astronaut saga is that NASA used Nichelle Nichols (of Star Trek) to recruit women into the program--she got Resnick to apply.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:13 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]


Ideefixe: "My favorite part of the women astronaut saga is that NASA used Nichelle Nichols (of Star Trek) to recruit women into the program--she got Resnick to apply."

And my favorite part about Nichelle Nichols as Uhura is that she considered quitting Star Trek because her role was dumb and she was going to Broadway, but then Martin Luther King, Jr., told her he was a big fan and "You have the first important non-traditional role, non-stereotypical role. … You cannot abdicate your position. You are changing the minds of people across the world, because for the first time, through you, we see ourselves and what can be."

POP CULTURE MATTERS!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:27 PM on July 1 [42 favorites]


Man, I love the story of the Mercury 13, except it also depresses the hell out of me. They were so amazingly awesome, and treated so badly by nearly everyone.

And I had never heard of them, until about five years ago I saw an obituary for one of them in the local paper, and I went looking.

LBJ did a lot of good stuff, but on this he really fell down.
posted by suelac at 1:27 PM on July 1


The 100 number is just baffling. I mean, sure, there were probably no women in the engineering corps that was trying to solve the problem, but presumably at least SOME of them had wives.
posted by uberchet at 1:56 PM on July 1


People are getting dismayed about the 100 tampon question and not about this: "Around 1990—seven years after Ride’s historic flight—NASA management quietly ordered a working group of physicians to declare homosexuality a 'psychiatrically disqualifying condition.'"? Luckily, "The rule didn’t end up going through ...".
posted by benito.strauss at 1:59 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


I totally would have guessed 100. I mean, you don't want to run out, right? As someone who has literally never thought about this question until just now, 100 seems well above "plenty" but not yet "absurd."

There is someting completely charming about a room full of nerdy male NASA engineers stumbling their way through the process of outfitting the space shuttle for a lady. Of course, the smart thing would have been to have some lady engineers on staff to do this, but the fact that someone approached Sally Ride directly with the tampon question suggests that's not the way it happened. I wonder if they drew straws to see who would have to approach her with these kind of questions. The hilarious Hollywood film almost writes itself.

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:05 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


Is no one going to posit a reasonable answer to the tampon quantity question? I have a hunch that is much more than needed, but I have no idea how far off the mark it is. Maybe 5x?
posted by dgran at 2:08 PM on July 1


The 100 number is just baffling.

Not really, to my mind and I'm curious how that entire conversation went.

The book I mentioned above, Riding Rockets, was written by an astronaut who had real contact with women in a profession setting until he joined that mixed gender astronaut class NASA. He admits he was totally clueless, along with being an asshole.

Now imagine it's a clueless engineer, working oN a this first flight of a woman. Weight is an important consideration, so highballing rather than low balling probably makes engineering sense.

Ride's answer was great though,
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:11 PM on July 1


The actual answer varies by woman, but the realistic upper bound for someone who doesn't have some sort of menorrhagia issue (which would presumably disqualify someone from being an astronaut) is probably 25-30. If nothing else, it says on the side of the box how often you're supposed to change them, and the average length of a woman's period is a figure that is known to science. Asking Ride exactly how many she'd need is definitely the right call, but they could have very easily gotten to a better ballpark before that point.
posted by KathrynT at 2:13 PM on July 1 [14 favorites]


And partly, it just staggers me that this is something that isn't part of, you know, general knowledge, like "how often do people have to go to the bathroom" or "how long does it take to eat a meal." I mean, just like those two things, there's a lot of individual variation, but I can't imagine a bunch of engineers saying "How long does it take to eat lunch? Is three hours the right amount of time?"
posted by KathrynT at 2:21 PM on July 1 [12 favorites]


Eh, it was the late '70s, it's to see a particular male being ignorant about this. The important part is the asking.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:22 PM on July 1


The way I read the question about 100 being the right number was more as a nasty jab intended to highlight her difference, not a humorous glimpse at male cluelessness. Those women put up with a LOT of that shit.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 2:24 PM on July 1 [16 favorites]


Ugh, quonsar, that didn't even occur to me.
posted by KathrynT at 2:29 PM on July 1


The tampon answer varies from woman to woman, and depends on the length and heaviness of her flow and the absorbency of the tampons in question. If you have a four or five-day period and your flow is manageable enough that you can wear a tampon for the maximum recommended time (8 hours), you only need three tampons a day and can get by with 12-15 a month. That'd be the minimum, though; at the other end of the spectrum, some women go through a tampon every two hours, especially in the first couple of days.

Or: if you walk through the tampon aisle at the drugstore you'll see that they're most commonly sold in boxes of 24 to 40, and it's probably safe to assume that's enough for one woman for a month.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:46 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


I didn't think of it as a nasty jibe either, but on reflection that might make the most sense. Still curious how that entire conversation went.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:49 PM on July 1


I wonder how the Soviets handled the issue. Valentina Tereshkova only flew for three days but Svetlana Savitskaya was up for 19.

So she'd have needed 272, right? I mean, this isn't exactly tough math for the men who put men on the men. I mean, moon.
posted by glhaynes at 2:58 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Aw, now, cut the engineers some slack. If you took a room full of random men who happened to have a wife or girlfriend, and asked them how many tampons their wives/girlfriends would use over the course of a week, I seriously doubt maybe one-in-ten of them would have any worldly clue.

And we're talking engineers, so, the number is probably less than zero.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:10 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Especially if you are asking clueless questions about a woman's period.

In fairness it seems that whenever we go shopping, there are three things we appear always to be buying, no matter if we go shopping every day: cat food, pads, and bobby pins. If a girl needs fifty thousand bobby pins a year, it is reasonable to extrapolate that she may also require 100 tampons a week.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:38 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


"Around 1990—seven years after Ride’s historic flight—NASA management quietly ordered a working group of physicians to declare homosexuality a 'psychiatrically disqualifying condition.'"? Luckily, "The rule didn’t end up going through ...".

I'm not that surprised... my understanding is that the intelligence establishment wouldn't hire gay people at the time.
posted by hoyland at 4:50 PM on July 1


I just asked my husband, if, hypothetically, he was sending me to, say, the moon, and had to pack for me, how many tampons would he pack?

He answered: 'well, it depends what week it is, of course'. (His guess was seven, which is also wrong but closer to correct than 100 and also, he would totally know whether they were needed at all, and that's the difference here I think).
posted by shrieking violet at 5:30 PM on July 1 [5 favorites]


As Brandon Blatcher mentioned, Riding Rockets is a tale of "arrested development among military flyboys working with feminist pioneers and post-doc scientists". It's an excellent and entertaining read, and my take on the 100 number comment was influenced by having read the book. *shrugs*
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:43 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]




hoyland: "I'm not that surprised... my understanding is that the intelligence establishment wouldn't hire gay people at the time."

I think that the official reason was the risk that an agent's homosexuality could be used to compromise them through blackmail.

Of course, straight up homophobia was the real reason.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:00 PM on July 1


If one of the two answers in the thread so far to the question of the "right amount" for a month was 25-30, and the other was 12-15 minimum, it doesn't seem outrageous to consider a 3x safety margin for something that couldn't easily be re-purposed from something else. Obviously every bit of weight counts for any launch, but tampons aren't very heavy.
posted by trialex at 7:04 PM on July 1


something that couldn't easily be re-purposed from something else

Ha! Tell that to teenage-me... wads of toilet paper are your friend, when you are trying to pretend that you are not and never could bleed once per month for the rest of your "fertile" years, so of course you wouldn't need to be prepared for Aunt Flo.

The real question is whether they allowed her to bring Ibuprofen along ... I bet space cramps are nothing to sneeze at!
posted by allthinky at 7:27 PM on July 1


I read that as "yuk yuk, women, amirite? So we probably need to make the spacecraft bigger to fit all the tampons" type of mean humor.

But if they legit didn't know, guessing is dumb anyway, and a sign of "we'll be the smart engineers here" arrogance. There's an expert right there. Just ask.
posted by ctmf at 7:29 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


trialex: "If one of the two answers in the thread so far to the question of the "right amount" for a month was 25-30, and the other was 12-15 minimum, it doesn't seem outrageous to consider a 3x safety margin for something that couldn't easily be re-purposed from something else. Obviously every bit of weight counts for any launch, but tampons aren't very heavy."

Some women don't use tampons, so the minimum is 0.

We're talking about an agency that did all sorts of creative research experimentation to figure out how to meet other basic human needs during space flight, so it's a giant red flag that the engineers did nothing to find out even the order of magnitude of how many tampons a woman would need if she happened to be menstruating during her space flight. At least some of those engineers were married, and many would have had living mothers - there were women they could have asked privately, rather than humiliating the female astronaut by guessing.
posted by gingerest at 7:32 PM on July 1 [8 favorites]


Rather telling, isn't it, that ludicrously bad guessing on the part of such clever engineers is somehow considered "humiliating" not to them but to the female astronaut?
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:57 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


Yeah. In the context of making it clear at every opportunity that Dr. Ride was different, the intention was to humiliate her, not themselves. But their choice of ignorance should have shamed them, I agree.
posted by gingerest at 8:02 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Some women don't use tampons, so the minimum is 0.

This is an interesting issue, actually. Pads work largely because of gravity—they are right up against the body, but they catch and wick in what falls/trickles/is pushed out by the body. This isn't foolproof even with gravity, as anyone knows who's ever had a leak because they slept the wrong way or exercised too hard wearing one.

As such, I wonder if this might be one of those cases, like competitive swimming, where you either figure out how to make tampons work or you don't go to space. But I don't know for sure! (I also don't actually know how competitive swimmers deal with this, especially if their use of medication is limited by Olympic rules. Along these lines, I've also wondered before, in idle moments, whether a Diva Cup would work in space. It seems a little potentially messy, as those can be a bit messy even on land, but still I wonder... Surface tension, it seems, could either be friend or foe in space.) It seems I've heard that astronauts wear pads of a sort on ascent, since the high G's tend to push out bodily fluids. But I wonder what happens then when they're weightless.

Anyway, very interesting to think about!
posted by limeonaire at 11:23 PM on July 1


That's an interesting point, limeonaire. The expulsive force of menstruation is uterine contraction, but that only gets material out of the uterus and into the vagina. After that, I guess you would need the wicking action of the tampon. Mind you, I think even in the 1980s, the crew's physician would have advised using oral contraception to suppress menstruation altogether for the flight.

Previously!
posted by gingerest at 12:12 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


KathrynT: "And partly, it just staggers me that this is something that isn't part of, you know, general knowledge, like "how often do people have to go to the bathroom" or "how long does it take to eat a meal." I mean, just like those two things, there's a lot of individual variation, but I can't imagine a bunch of engineers saying "How long does it take to eat lunch? Is three hours the right amount of time?""

Agreed. The idea that menstruation lasts seven days is pretty well entrenched (thanks to crass jokes) in typical male knowledge. As stated above, boxes of tampons are typically 24 or 40. That suggests 3-5 tampons needed per day. I thought men were supposed to be the ones who were better at math and objectively logical problem-solving skills.

(Okay, that's snarky snark. Does not apply to the many, many men who have the common sense to just fucking ask for clarification if they don't feel like they can make an assumption. This population of common-sense-having men apparently does not include highly-credentialed NASA engineers.)
posted by desuetude at 12:24 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Would the lack of gravity and low air pressure, as well as other factors such as the stress of launch and so on, cause a change in flow levels or the menstrual cycle in general? I'd be (slightly) interested to know how many tampons she actually ended up using during the mission, as well as the experiences of other female astronauts.
posted by donkeymon at 3:34 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Bob Crippen, who became a lifelong friend and colleague, introduced her as “undoubtedly the prettiest member of the crew.”

For sure.


I don't know Rick Hauck's "flavor saver" 'stache is pretty hot.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:24 AM on July 2


guessing is dumb anyway, and a sign of "we'll be the smart engineers here" arrogance. There's an expert right there. Just ask.

Does not apply to the many, many men who have the common sense to just fucking ask for clarification if they don't feel like they can make an assumption. This population of common-sense-having men apparently does not include highly-credentialed NASA engineers.)


But they did ask...?
posted by forgetful snow at 5:02 AM on July 2


This population of common-sense-having men apparently does not include highly-credentialed NASA engineers.

Eh, it's NASA. Looked at in comparison to all the silly tests that the original Mercury astronauts had to do, this is fairly mild. Seriously, doctors had whacked out theories that astronauts wouldn't be able to function in weightless, that their vision might be blurred or the body might freak. When the test pilots told them "No, we fly at the edge of space all the time, have been weightless and it's no big deal" they were ignored 'cause no self respecting doctor was going to listen to some damn jet jockey.

So yeah, when sending their first woman into space, NASA sure as hell over thought it. 'Cause no wants to be hauled before a board because they forgot to prepare for a natural and well known function of the human body.

Anyway...

I went looking for that 100 tampons quote and discovered that it's part of Ride's oral history with NASA, which can be downloaded from this complete list of oral history participants, in PDF format. That one that has the tampon discuss is from the 10-22-02 PDF and is fairly brief:
ROSS-NAZZAL: I had a question. I read an article recently that was published by Florida Today, and you had talked about what they had to add to the flight kit on STS-7, for instance, things like tampons. And there was a discussion about whether or not you should bring makeup on board the flight. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what else was included in the flight [kit], if you had any suggestions, or if they had any suggestions that you were opposed to, and why.

RIDE: It’s actually kind of funny, because there was a reasonable amount of discussion about it. The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup—so they designed a makeup kit. A makeup kit brought to you by NASA engineers. [Laughter] So, “What?” You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit. So they came to me, figuring that I could give them advice. It was about the last thing in the world that I wanted to be spending my time in training on. So I didn’t spend much time on it at all. But there were a couple of other female astronauts, who were given the job of determining what should go in the makeup kit, and how many tampons should fly as part of a flight kit. I remember the engineers trying to decide how many tampons should fly on a one-week flight; they asked, “Is 100 the right number?”

“No. That would not be the right number.”

They said, “Well, we want to be safe.”

I said, “Well, you can cut that in half with no problem at all.” [Laughter]

And there were probably some other, similar sorts of issues, just because they had never thought about what just kind of personal equipment a female astronaut would take. They knew that a man might want a shaving kit, but they didn’t know what a woman would carry. Most of these were male engineers, so this was totally new and different to them.

But the people you should really talk to about that are Mary Cleave and Marcia S. Ivins. And Kathy Sullivan—she ended up with some of this, too.
There isn't a history for Marcia Ivins, but there is one for Mary Cleave and there was this humorous bit:
Cleave: I know I was there for STS-7 because I was on when Sally [K. Ride]—we were the first female-female connection.

Wright: Would you like to talk more about that, since you brought that up, about that mission and—

Cleave: Well, no, I mean—

Wright: —your memories about that?

Cleave: No, I didn’t even notice it. Here’s Sally and I, we didn’t even notice it. But I was on duty, and one female reporter, who will go unnamed, afterwards said, “Mary, it was so disappointing.”

And I said, “What do you mean?”

“You and Sally just had a normal conversation.”

“Yeah. We were working.”

“Well, you should have said something special for this momentous occasion.”

“What momentous—?”

“First female-to-female communication.”

And I went, “Oh, we didn’t notice.” [Laughter] Sort of like, “Well, I’m sorry I disappointed you, but really we didn’t notice it.”

Wright: Just doing your job.

Cleave: Yes, yes. And that was good. That was really good. That was fun.
Finally, there's a bit more general info about NASA's concerns about menstruation in space at this CollectSpace link. Long story short it basically went like this "NASA: we need to think about menses in space, there might be issues. Females Astronauts: Good point, but I don't think it's going to be a big issue. NASA: we still gotta think and talk about so we have all these ideas. FA: Ok." Flight occurs. FA: "Hey, I had my period on the mission and it wasn't an issue. NASA: Ok"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:25 AM on July 2 [10 favorites]


Maybe it's one of those million dollar ball-point vs. pencil things, but the Soviets solved this issue by just scheduling Valentina Tereshkova's flight better. (I'm not joking.)
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:30 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I wonder how the Soviets handled the issue.

They used a pencil.
posted by Legomancer at 6:31 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


the Soviets solved this issue by just scheduling Valentina Tereshkova's flight better. (I'm not joking.)

I should cite my source.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:46 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


I feel like this topic is something Mary Roach must have discussed in Packing For Mars but I can't for the life of me remember if she did or not.

In any event, if the "right number" is 20 or so, I don't see that 100 is out of the question given that you're in space and you can't just pop over the the Walmart if something goes wrong.

I'm curious how the climate has changed. I wonder how much sexism the current women Astronauts have to deal with, and how much the current men dish out.
posted by bondcliff at 7:03 AM on July 2


As stated above, boxes of tampons are typically 24 or 40. That suggests 3-5 tampons needed per day.

Maybe. Though, I suspect most men would have no offhand idea what the standard packaging amount is. And, then, it seems there is always a partially-used box of tampons in the closet, which adds to the uncertainty as to the actual number used.

I don't quite understand the disbelief expressed here that men wouldn't know all about this stuff. It's just one of those areas into which men fear to tread.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:10 AM on July 2


I wonder how the Soviets handled the issue.

They used a pencil.


Nah, everyone used a pencil at first. But pencils break and who wants pencil points or flakes floating around in the cabin? So a private citizen invented a pen that would work in space, offered it to NASA, who tested it and then bought some of the pens from him.

As stated above, boxes of tampons are typically 24 or 40. That suggests 3-5 tampons needed per day.

As a penile American, I'm curious how that suggests 3-5 tampons a day, can you explain the reasoning? Because if they come in boxes of 24 or 40, they doesn't seem to indicate anything other than mystery.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:34 AM on July 2


I think, as with most products, the number in the box is an indication of packaging limitations rather than an attempt to make a number that conveniently fits a woman's schedule. (And which woman's schedule anyway?)
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:16 AM on July 2


I think, as with most products, the number in the box is an indication of packaging limitations rather than an attempt to make a number that conveniently fits a woman's schedule.

You may be surprised to learn how well manufactures have adapted their packaging numbers to fit a woman's schedule. Conveniently enough, I find the number of pints of haagen daaz that fit into my grocer's freezer to mesh surprisingly well for the number I require for my lady days.
posted by phunniemee at 8:38 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, I even have the appropriate organs but don't use tampons and only have a vague sense that the answer is "more than pads because TSS." 75-100 would probably be the number I'd send with someone whose body I didn't know, under circumstances that may seriously affect their flow rate/leak predictability, and with the understanding that they could also be used as wound dressings/wire insulators/what have you. On the other hand, my suggestion wouldn't be couched in a joke about makeup being a prerequisite to flight.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:47 AM on July 2


But they did ask...?

But they didn't do even the most preliminary research first. I mean, it's also trivially easy to discover that a regular absorbency tampon can absorb about nine grams of fluid -- it's printed on the side of the box. So do these engineers think that women are losing almost a liter of blood every month?

I was talking about this with my husband last night, and he said "Well, remember the time, people were more skittish about discussing these things." And I said "No, PEOPLE weren't -- MEN were."
posted by KathrynT at 8:52 AM on July 2


But they didn't do even the most preliminary research first.

What exactly are you looking for here, the perfect way to approach the problem?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:58 AM on July 2


To be fair these were engineers we're talking about here. This was probably the first time they had ever talked to a girl before.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:03 AM on July 2


So do these engineers think that women are losing almost a liter of blood every month?

Incidentally, women lose about that much through urination each month.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:07 AM on July 2


What exactly are you looking for here, the perfect way to approach the problem?

I'm looking for them to approach the problem the way they approached every other problem. They designed an entirely new space toilet gizmo without asking these kinds of intrusive questions. It's a dismissive and othering tactic. I mean, it really sounds like they didn't even go so far as to even look at a box of tampons. This is commonly available knowledge, not some kind of devil vagina magic.
posted by KathrynT at 9:13 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


That's cute, but what are people looking for here, that the engineers know exactly what to do or that they ask questions? 'cause in the CollectSpace link I posted above, it's clear they're trying to figure the issue out by actually talking to the female astronauts aka preliminary research and planning for worst case scenarios:
Was there ever any discussion about menstruation and flying in space when you were in the office?

There was concern about it. It was one of those unknowns. A lot of people predicted retrograde flow of menstrual blood, and it would get out in your abdomen, get peritonitis, and horrible things would happen. All the women were going, "I don't think so." But you couldn't prove it or disprove it. We were asked, "What do we do about this?" We said, "How about we just consider it a nonproblem until it becomes a problem? If anybody gets sick in space you can bring us home. Then we'll deal with it as a problem, but let's consider it a nonproblem." They did. I'm not totally sure who had the first period in space, but they came back and said, "Period in space, just like period on the ground. Don't worry about it." I think the big controversy was about — and a lot of the women disagreed — how many feminine hygiene products do you put [onboard].

Of course the more you put, the less room you have in your drawer for your clothes and stuff. Or in a drawer. I don't even remember where they put it. I helped make that decision with the docs. We had to do worst case. Tampons or pads, how many would you use if you had a heavy flow, five days or seven days of flow. Because we didn't know how it would be different up there. What's the max that you could use?

Most of the women said, "I would never, ever use that many." "Yes, but somebody else might. You sure don't want to be worried about do I have enough." So it was like, "Uh." The men were all, "Oh man, that's a lot of stuff!" I don't know; it was another one of those issues that was really kind of a nonissue.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:14 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Couldn't they have just outsourced a contract to Lockheed for a titanium diva cup and been done with it?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:20 AM on July 2


KathrynT: "I was talking about this with my husband last night, and he said "Well, remember the time, people were more skittish about discussing these things." And I said "No, PEOPLE weren't -- MEN were.""

I buy tampons and pads for my wife all the time. I have no idea how many she uses every month. In fact, I think she'd be a little freaked out if I tried to calculate the number. What would be the purpose of doing so? To somehow manage or control her and her use of feminine supplies? I certainly have no interest in that. She tells me to get some next time I go to the store, and I get them.

It's not that I'm scared to talk to her about it. Menstruation is a natural part of life. It's just not a subject open to discussion between my wife and I. It's been made clear to me that it's a private thing that is none of my damn business. I wouldn't be surprised if other women feel differently, but that is my experience with her.

That still doesn't excuse the engineers from just asking, "how many do you need?"
posted by double block and bleed at 9:35 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


That still doesn't excuse the engineers from just asking, "how many do you need?"

If people want to assign blame for who to hold responsible for packing extra tampons, the engineer who asked "Is 100 the right number" is an option sure. But then you have to wonder why Ride didn't simply say "No, I just need X number."

Yay, blame for everyone!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:53 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't really understand why asking an astronaut about their needs is considered not doing proper research. Throughout the entire space program astronauts were consulted on all sorts of things. Food, cockpit layouts, sleeping arrangements. Since having women astronauts was something new it stands to reason that they would be asked about their needs. Yes, those engineers might have been clueless about such things, but I don't see why any of them wouldn't have been. It's not like they could just Google "How many tampons does a woman need?" And it seems the fastest way to research it is to just ask.

As to the makeup thing, I'd read before that it was some women astronauts who requested makeup because during missions they would participate in live press conferences from the shuttle, it wasn't so they could look pretty for their male companions.

That said, the thought of watching a bunch of male NASA engineers come up with a NASA-approved makeup kit is kind of funny.
posted by bondcliff at 10:21 AM on July 2


With regard to Mike Mullane of Riding Rockets, people often think he changed his sexist ways toward the end of his career. He didn't. He spent his entire career fighting against the inclusion of women in the space program. He may have mellowed after he retired, but let's remember that he (and a number of his colleagues) was just awful to women who dared to join the boys' club at NASA.
posted by swerve at 11:23 AM on July 2


If people want to assign blame for who to hold responsible for packing extra tampons, the engineer who asked "Is 100 the right number" is an option sure. But then you have to wonder why Ride didn't simply say "No, I just need X number."

I assume that she did tell them the right number, and the author just didn't choose to include that part of the conversation. Do you think that she just said "That would not be the right number” and then made them guess again?
posted by amarynth at 11:36 AM on July 2


In any event, if the "right number" is 20 or so, I don't see that 100 is out of the question given that you're in space and you can't just pop over the the Walmart if something goes wrong.

I am trying to imagine what sort of geyser effect period you'd be having to require 100 tampons. (And I say this as someone who has had heavy periods.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:10 PM on July 2


Typical engineers mindset. Why did they have to go and ask her all these intrusive questions rather than just knowing how much she'd like to bring? And alright, so it's not easy to have intrinsic knowledge of another person's hygiene needs, and probably not a good idea just to make assumptions and then launch them into the isolate void, but why didn't they just go and ask her for god's sake? If these brief snippets are anything to judge by, this team that built several functioning spaceships clearly has no common sense.

While we're on the subject, I'm sort of offended that everyone here doesn't know exactly how many razors I go through per month.
posted by forgetful snow at 12:26 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Do you think that she just said "That would not be the right number” and then made them guess again?

No, it's pretty clear what she said after that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:48 PM on July 2


Metroid Baby: "if you walk through the tampon aisle at the drugstore you'll see that they're most commonly sold in boxes of 24 to 40, and it's probably safe to assume that's enough for one woman for a month."

I wouldn't think that was a safe assumption at all, especially for someone with no direct experience of the process. Especially considering that A) the variation in package size is almost 100%, B) even the self reporting here shows a 400% variation C) some women use multiple sizes over the course of their period D) many men have heard of or experienced women having to make an emergency run for supplies mid period.

gingerest: "We're talking about an agency that did all sorts of creative research experimentation to figure out how to meet other basic human needs during space flight, so it's a giant red flag that the engineers did nothing to find out even the order of magnitude of how many tampons a woman would need if she happened to be menstruating during her space flight."

They asked the person directly affected, I can't imagine anything more basic than going to the primary source. Guessing instead of just asking is a bit weird but engineers are taught to constantly make (informed guesses to a greater or lesser degree) all the time (at least in the slide rule days) when solving problems as a quick magnitude check of the final answer. (EG: If I'm calculating the square footage of a house I might guess ~150 m2; if my answer comes out 10 or 500 I'm going to have a closer look at the calculation.)
posted by Mitheral at 9:32 PM on July 2


They didn't ask. They guessed. And they also decided it would be a problem, instead of asking whether she thought it would. They also assumed that she and the other female astronauts would want makeup kits, then tried to figure out what should go in it, and only then asked her to contribute to that design, which she declined to do (because if you looked at Sally Ride's face, you could see she didn't typically wear makeup on the ground, and was thus unlikely to develop a passion for it while working in space.)
posted by gingerest at 9:42 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


They started a conversation with a guess and asked if they were right, then worked from there.

They assumed it might be a problem because that's what NASA does when sending people into space, over worry about biological functions for the astronauts, even if said astronaut says its not a problem. Out of the seven Mercury astronauts, only six actually flew because after the selection it was discovered that one of them, Deke Slayton, sometimes had an irregular heartbeat. Sure, he had been a test pilot and war pilot and had never had a physical problem with flying, but doctors saw something odd and worried about it. When push came to shove, doctors thought he'd probably be fine on a spaceflight, but since there was a backup astronaut who had trained for the flight who didn't have the irregular heartbeat, why not fly him instead. So they pulled Slayton from active status and told the former test pilot that not only would he not be getting a spaceflight, but he could no longer fly planes by himself.

There's not denying that women faced all sorts of ugly sexism in the astronaut corps and that was wrong on just about every level imaginable. But worrying about whether a woman having a period in space would create medical problems, along with overpacking tampons, is pretty far down on that totem pole.

However, the makeup kits do seem incredibly silly and ill thought out.

They designed an entirely new space toilet gizmo without asking these kinds of intrusive questions. It's a dismissive and othering tactic. I mean, it really sounds like they didn't even go so far as to even look at a box of tampons. This is commonly available knowledge, not some kind of devil vagina magic.

Oh hey sorry Katheryn T, missed this earlier comment of yours.

As to the space toilet, every astronaut has to be potty trained, literally. They practice on a mockup that has camera inside the toiler, so astronauts learn how to position themselves on the toiler. Naturally, this means lights are installed in the mockup also, since the body blocks all light. Not sure exactly what goes on during these sessions, but intrusive questions seem par for the course in this and all astronaut training.

Why did they build a space toilet? Because the astronauts absolutely hated pooping in bags and said as much in post flight debriefings. Why did early space toilets (starting with Skylab in the '70s) suck so bad and need to be redesigned? Because everything is different in a zero g environment. Fecal popcorning was discovered to be a thing, along with circular movements of fecal matter as its exiting. Being an astronaut wasn't always glamorous.

Take the issue of urination. There were 3 different sizes of condom like devices that Apollo astronauts used to pee in while in their spacesuits. Naturally, technicians had to find which size fit each astronaut was when taking the measurements for space suits. So again, intrusive questions and measurements were not limited to later female astronauts.

Finally, I'm not sure what looking at box of tampons will make clear to engineers. Can you clarify?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:36 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


The instructions to change the tampon at least every four hours might be informative.
posted by gingerest at 12:10 AM on July 3


From what Google is showing me of tampon boxes from that time, frequency of use was not mentioned on the packaging or the instructions and they seemed to stick to application explanations.

It seems to me like people are reaching way too hard to make an allegation of sexism over this extremely minor issue when the article gave plenty of real and blatant examples.
posted by forgetful snow at 12:19 AM on July 3


There were instructions in the box for all the brands after the toxic shock syndrome associated with Rely super absorbent tampons in 1980, which I am old and female enough to remember without "reaching so hard" as to Google box images to ttry to argue that tampons were a great cultural mystery in the early 1980s
posted by gingerest at 1:21 AM on July 3


I will have to take your word for that, but I still don't see why it's such an offence for them to simply ask her for her own preference.
posted by forgetful snow at 2:23 AM on July 3


The instructions to change the tampon at least every four hours might be informative.

Duh, of course, there's instructions in the box! Thanks for that reminder.

I've been reading a lot of the oral histories of the first female astronauts because of this post (along with other astronauts( and there's a lot of fascinating stuff.

Sally Ride probably got to be the first American woman in space because she spent a lot of time working on the Remote Manipulator Arm. She assisted with literally writing the book on how to use it, so when the Shuttle Challenger had its first mission that involved use of the arm (STS-7), she was a natural choice.

Fun fact: on her second mission, the Commander wasn't with the rest of the crew 'cause he was training for another mission. Since Ride was then the only experienced crew on the flight, she was more or less in the Commander's "seat" until he showed up.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:49 AM on July 3


Brandon Blatcher: "As a penile American, I'm curious how that suggests 3-5 tampons a day, can you explain the reasoning? Because if they come in boxes of 24 or 40, they doesn't seem to indicate anything other than mystery."

Divide by seven.

Also, see above comments referencing instructions to change it every 4-6 hours, and the fact that the fluid absorption capacity in grams is listed.
posted by desuetude at 9:44 AM on July 3


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