Decisions Great and Small
When women were admitted to the Astronaut Corps in 1978, many decisions needed to be made. Some were very important and some were mundane. Most of those decisions had to be made with male engineers. There were no female engineers at NASA back then.
Soon after we arrived, we were invited to a meeting with the engineers to decide on something of great importance. How would women contain their urine while waiting on the launch pad for liftoff? Wait times might be a few hours. Men had it easy. They wore a condom connected to a tube that emptied into a urine collection bag. Obviously, that wouldn’t work for the women. What to do?
Many ideas were considered most of which were uncomfortable or didn’t work. Putting our heads together we came up with an individually fitted stretchy panty girdle that had multiple layers of absorbent material that would contain the urine. One layer had powder that turned to gel when wetted so it gave you the feeling you were sitting on Jello. They cost $400 each!
We each had to have several of them because we had to practice “using” them. The instructions were: Go home, put on the “girdle”, lie down in the bathtub and “go”. Do you know how hard it is to pee in your pants once you have been potty trained? We all learned how to do that.
The next question was, “Do you need to take makeup?” Most of the women declined. Since I was fair skinned, I needed a little color so I wouldn’t fade into the background in pictures. So, the engineers sent one of the ladies from the Johnson Space Center to a department store and she chose a few things that were put into a kit for us. The cosmetics would be packed in our clothing locker for launch – but only if we requested it. It was the same with our underwear. “Tell us what you want and we’ll put it onboard for you”.
At first all the Astronauts were given clothes to be worn inflight: shorts, long pants and a jacket in “Columbia blue”, and a navy polo shirt. After the flight, our clothes would be collected, labeled, cleaned, inventoried and stored. It was only later that NASA realized how costly it was to pay a contractor to store our clothes and instead let us purchase shirts from a specific vendor. Our clothing had to be all-cotton as nylon might spark a little electricity and in a closed area with extra oxygen it might generate a fire. Imagine that!! In later flight pictures you’ll see a wide array of colorful items!
Bless those wonderful engineers who designed equipment and helped us make decisions they never dreamed they’d have to come up with! — Rhea
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Thanks for sharing this story. You and all of the other TFNGs are my heroes.
Thanks for your comments. Several years ago I met a young physician who was interviewing for a position as an assistant professor. His career history was impressive— but what I remember most was the life story of his mother. She had arrived in the US not speaking English. She overcame all barriers, attended college— later receiving a master’s degree. She has continued to help other women move into decision making positions. Her story was— “If you educated women, they promote families, culture, and society. When you educate men, they make more power weapons used in war.” Obviously this is a oversimplification— but it is food for thought.
Please contact your most important mission!!