It seems there is a myth going around explaining why it took NASA so long to send women into space based on how they use the bathroom. Even though the first woman in space happened in 1963, it took more than 2 decades for it to be a common thing, and for longer flights. Sexism apparently happens outside earth also.
Well one woman, author Mary Robinette Kowal, published an essay “To Make It to the Moon, Women Have to Escape Earth’s Gender Bias,” illustrating the ways sexism got in the way of preventing women from travelling in space. Reactions to her essay had several people claiming it was simply due to their use of the toilet to pee, and the lack of technology then. She disproves this fallacy in a Twitter thread that went viral, exposing how astronauts go to the bathroom in space.
She begins by explaining how doctors didn’t think any man or woman would be able to pee without gravity. The first space flight was scheduled for 15 minutes, so no provisions for peeing were made. Unfortunately for Alan Shepherd, the first American to go into space, he had to go badly, especially due to launchpad delays. He asked Mission Control for permission to urinate in his suit. After consultation with suit specialists and flight doctors, he got the go signal. So the first man in space went up in a “wet” suit.
Soon they developed a condom-like sheath to catch the pee. It failed. It worked fine in testing, but when actual astronauts tried it, it blew-off leaving their suits with pee. The sheaths came in small, medium, and large sizes. It seems all astronauts ordered large sizes…guess ego came first.
Pooping meant astronauts had to tape a bag to their behinds. It worked for Gemini and Mercury, but the capsule still stank. Apollo needed a different solution. Still using a poop bag, they invented a device that would suck out the pee into space. It was more complicated than simple, if you opened the valve to late, pee would float around the cabin…a fraction too early, well, the vacuum of space would “grab” your manhood.
Pee-condoms were still flawed and caused many “accidents”. The movie Apollo 13 saw Fred Haise get sick, but what it didn’t show was how he got sick…his genitals were bathing in pee for hours. He got a UTI and developed a kidney infection.
Finally, decades after, NASA decided to send women into space. Since women can’t pee in condoms, they thought of a diaper – which they called the Maximum Absorbent Garment. And they invented a zero-gravity toilet for pooping. Even to this day, the much-needed “necessities” are not perfect. Poop does not break off as it exits the body in zero gravity…you have to reach back and help with “special gloves.”
Without going into further detail which may make some readers queasy, needless to say that the slow advancement of women sent to space had nothing to do with pooping or peeing. Kowal sure made a mockery of the myth. After her thread went viral, she was asked other questions about bodily functions in space. And she apparently answered them all. She eventually came out with a book entitled The Fated Sky: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal.
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