Why It Wasn't a Small Step for Women

Women are lighter and thus cost less than men to transport to space, they’re less prone to heart attacks, and they do better in isolation tests, reasoned Randy Lovelace when he founded the Women In Space Earliest program in 1959 to test women for their “qualifications as astronauts,” as this Wired article reports. Female astronaut candidates in the program outscored men in several areas, including sensory deprivation tests, where women beat what was once thought of as the six-hour limit of tolerance by four hours. So why were there no females on Apollo 11? NASA officials were concerned, among other things, about women’s inexperience flying experimental military aircraft (due to being barred from the Air Force) and also about menstruation. [%comments]

Anand Bala

I doubt if it had anything at all to do with Mensuration.
It probably had more to do with the Space Program being military drive. The military back then (as it is in many countries today) was largely an empire of male chauvinists.

A very similar question can be asked about the number of women who receive the Noble prize in the sciences. Not enough women were allowed to peruse serious research in a male dominated academic environment (there are Noble exceptions e.g. Curie and her two prizes). More recently we have seen many more women recipients. Their entry into academics was at a time when the male domination was facing it's first wave of resistance. After 2020 I am willing to predict that the majority of prizes will go to women.

Jim D

If weight is a primary concern, then why not staff all of our space program with people afflicted with dwarfism?

That should save tons of weight.



Or perhaps maybe it had something to do with... SEXISM? No, that wouldn't happen in the 1950s. :-)

I recommend you get a copy of The Mercury 13: The Untold Story of American Women and the Dream of Space Flight by Martha Ackmann.

Ken D.

Speaking of flying weight, why shouldn't lighter people, notably women, pay less for plane tickets? I got to thinking about this a few years ago when my family was threatened with a fee for an overweight checked bag. My wife solved that by taking a heavy object out and putting it in her carry-on. Net effect on payload weight: zero. It took my daughter, then 12 or so, to point out how obviously nutty that process was. But even though we sweat over such slight baggage weight issues, an 90-pound adult pays as much as the largest person who can fit in the seat.

science minded

You all are assuming the step for women has been small--not giant.


Anand Bala --

And yet, the entire reason Neil Armstrong was chosen to be the first man on the moon was that he was a civilian. And when Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, the Soviets didn't hail their own equality - they crowed that their space capsules were so well-designed that even a woman could pilot them (presumably because there were no Geico commercials back then).

Sure, the lack of women in the space program was chauvinistic, but it wasn't military chauvinism. It was just good ol' fashioned regular chauvinism.


NASA can figure out how to get to the moon, but not the menstrual cycle?

An T

I asked about my overweight bag issue at the counter as I was checking in, and it was a deterrent for avoiding baggage handling related injury. Just because you can drag your 55lb bag from the curb to the counter once, doesn't mean everyone in LAX can do it all day.

Avi Rappoport

I tell my daughter about the Bad Old Days sometimes. Here's a nice encapsulated (heh) example.


hahaha. nice, caroline. nice.


Ken D, consider this: between union work rules, workman's comp insurance liability, and OSHA regulations, a single worker may not be allowed to carry an overweight bag from conveyor to luggage truck, or from luggage truck to cargo hold, or reverse once at the destination. Your overweight package forces the airline to engage in special processing. By charging you up front, you choose to either pay a fair rate for the handling you desire, or you can change your load so there is no special case.


It's also a matter of weight distribution, not just total weight. I once flew a puddle jumper that wasn't quite full, and after the plane filled up they pulled bags out of the hold and put them into the seating area. I thought it was odd that luggage that had obviously fit and that wasn't too heavy to be allowed in the first place would be moved, but the pilot (yeah, it was small enough that you could talk to the pilot) explained that we were borderline bottom heavy given the amount of luggage compared to the number of passengers, and in those cases he preferred to move some bags up rather than leave them below. That sounded suspiciously like hogwash to me, so I asked my grandfather (he worked with planes for thirty years) and he said it sounded legit.

As for the menstruation bit, yes, the actual reason was sexism, but the one of the common forms sexism took at the time was men fretting over women's periods. They didn't really understand them-by choice-and so found it easy to attribute all kinds of nonsense to them. I think some men knew they were just making excuses, but others really bought into the idea that menstruation rendered women nearly useless for anything that required thought or movement (excepting, of course, housework and such) once a month.



The military still hasn't figured out how to handle women. There was a very recent article stating that the Navy *wants* to allow female officers to serve on nuclear submarines ... but a significant obstacle is that they haven't been able to figure out how to manage a shared bathroom. Apparently, everyone in the Navy comes from a household where men and women pee in separate locations, and can't figure out how one might cope if you might have to bathe or urinate in a physical space that might later be used by someone with different genitalia.


@Caroline, that's not at all surprising. I'm sure there are many rocket scientists to whom women a complete mystery.

I think you'd be surprised to find how many American universities forgot (or declined) to include women's restrooms in their science and engineering buildings, including Engineering Tower at UC Irvine.

science minded

Dear Caroline;

You have a point. The trouble is- Nasa has yet to figure out how to get around the problem of the solar system or the universe. That (like the menstrual cycle) took a woman's touch. (Notice past tense)


I've heard tell of these strange beings called 'women' and their peculiar customs and anatomy. It's a shame that more research hasn't gone into studying these fascinating creatures. We know next to nothing about their customs, their habits, and even their biology.


"NASA can figure out how to get to the moon, but not the menstrual cycle?"

Well, since the menstrual cycle is caused be the moon in the first place, a woman going to the moon would have been a disaster. Duh.

Maurice Hilarius

Not so much the menstrual period, but the week leading up to it.
NOBODY wants to be locked up in tight quarters with a woman with PMS.