In May of 1981, I married fellow astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson, and we had a decision to make: children now or children later. The first Shuttle flight had launched six weeks earlier, and no one was sure how quickly other flights would follow. My biological clock kept saying, “You ain’t gettin’ any younger.” I was 33.
Although I was very committed to my career, the opportunity to have a child or children was more important. We decided to let nature take its course. Four months later, I was expecting. As a physician, I knew that not all pregnancies continue. My obstetrician would consider me an “elderly primigravida” (or old for a first time pregnancy) and likely to suffer complications. We let NASA know when I was about five months pregnant and all was going well.
It was as if my male bosses had never considered that could happen. They had made no rules, had no plans for dealing with pregnant astronauts.
Knowing that they would be wary of my current performance and future career, I wasn’t sure what would happen. Luckily, the only restriction imposed was that I couldn’t fly in the NASA jets, which had ejection seats. Because of many unknowns, it also became a rule that no one could fly in space pregnant.
I continued to work, and the pregnancy went well. In July 1982, I joined the ancient sisterhood of mothers. Despite some birth complications, Paul was a normal, healthy baby. The media dubbed him the world’s first Astrotot, or a child born to two astronauts. (There had been a Cosmotot, a girl, born to two Russian Cosmonauts in 1964.)
NASA watched to see if children born after spaceflight would have any problems. As time went by, a number of babies were born to mothers and/or fathers who had been in space, and a few other Astrotots followed. All were perfect.
I had another healthy son four years after my first flight (yes, that egg had been subjected to a small amount of radiation in space and a week of weightlessness, and my husband had flown twice) and a daughter two years later before my third mission.
It has been wonderful to keep up with all the “space babies,” the children of extraordinary people.
And none glow in the dark.
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