Menstruating in space is not dangerous, but, according to Varsha Jain, one of the authors of a new paper, published in Microgravity, which reviewed methods for period suppression in space, it is inconvenient. Jain, a practicing gynecologist, spoke with female astronauts at NASA in November 2015. “The women I spoke to,” says Jain, “…They chose either to suppress or they chose to time their cycles, so they didn’t have to deal with their menstruation in space.”
The women who chose to suppress their periods did so with oral contraceptive pills — just skipping the placebo pills that would typically allow them to bleed and “mimic a natural cycle.” Jain’s research suggests however that long-acting reversible contraception such as intrauterine devices and implants could be more effective — despite being less consistent at suppressing menstruation than the pill — because they’re long-lasting and require no extra attention after insertion. Jain says that for longer missions, such as a hypothetical three-year trip to Mars, the weight of the pills and the need to dispose of the packaging could be a prohibitive inconvenience.
Other astronauts Jain spoke to told her they menstruated in space and during training without difficulty. While this isn’t a problem on shuttle missions, the United States’ waste-disposal system on the International Space Station is not designed to deal with menstrual blood, so urine containing blood can’t be recycled. Jain says more research on women’s health in spaceflight is needed, but for now, “the female astronauts need to know what options they have available for them based on the environment in which they’re working.”
Read the full story at The Atlantic.