Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
Astronaut space suits
Today we were all excited to go see the Mayborn Museum exhibit "Be The Astronaut". After the amazing Titanic exhibit last summer we were super excited and didn't take any children just so that we could take as much time as we wanted without the constant, "I'm bored, when are we leaving?" We chose today because the Mayborn has for YEARS had a first Sunday is free program. So we got there only to find out that first Sundays are no longer free as of this summer. We paid $8.00 per ticket to see it anyway. When we got in, we quickly realized that whoever put this exhibit together left half of it at home, probably because it wouldn't all fit into the gallery space. There were a dozen or so computer simulations allowing you to either launch a rocket, land on the moon, or drive the Mars rover. There was supposed to be a rocket, a moon lander and a Mars rover vehicle in the exhibit according to all the signage around the gallery. The only "objects" to look at were some moon landing Lego sets and these two space suits.
The first one is the Apollo A7-LB Lunar Spacesuit which was used in Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions in the early 1970's. Here's the wikipedia article where you can read more in depth details about the history of the suit and all its design features. Neil Armstrong described his suit a "tough, reliable, and almost cuddly".
The second suit is actually from the movie, Deep Impact, made in 1998. Gerry Griffin, the former director of the LBJ Space Center in Houston was a consultant on the film as well as former astronaut, David Walker. The actors in the suits were very uncomfortable during filming and, according to Jon Favreau, were "hung on racks" still in their suits and rolled outside to get some fresh air while on breaks.
As you can see the closer we came to the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo mission, the more things have been published on the space suits. CBS did a story on the seamstresses who made the Apollo suit that I will summarize here.
The Apollo 11 spacesuits had to be flexible, compact, and light-weight. International Latex, the company that manufactured Playtex bras and girdles, made a mock up, filmed an employee playing football in it, and won the government contract. The suits were made from 21 layers of very thin fabric and sewn to a "precise tolerance of 1/64" on what looks to be old heavy duty treadle machines. The goal was accuracy rather than speed. This is Lillie Elliott cutting out the patterns for the Apollo suits. After a fiery explosion that killed three astronauts during testing, the suits were revamped to remove anything that might burn.
Here is the entire video segment, for your enjoyment. It includes much more information such as interviews with the NASA engineers, as well as the last man to walk on the moon, Jack Schmitt.
Here is a Wall Street Journal article on Neil Armstrong's moon suit detailing the conservation efforts made to get it back on public display by July 16 for the 50th anniversary of the launch, which I will summarize for you here.
After the moon landing, NASA decontaminated the suit and sent it out on a tour of the US. Afterwards it was put on display at the Air and Space Museum for 30+ years. It was removed from the display in 2006 for conservation when it started showing signs of deterioration. The rubber layer in the interior of the suit had become brittle and was flaking, the zippers had begun to rust, and the suit was off-gassing vapors. The suit had also collected quite the amount of dust just from the thousands of visitors to pass by every day.
Lisa Young and her team of conservators at the Smithsonian interviewed the seamstresses who originally made the suit to learn more about how it was made, in order to help conserve it. Obviously with such a one of a kind object, they couldn't take it apart to clean and/or replace worn out components. They did however x-ray the suit as well as use a CT scanner on it. Spectrometric analysis showed that some of the dust on the suit was actually moon dust, so that was left alone. The suit now has a be-spoke mannequin and a new display case with filtered air ventilation system to keep the moon dust in and the public's dust out, as well as to remove the off-gassing vapors which would further deteriorate the suit if left behind.
Mary Robinette Kowal's NY Times article "To Make it to the Moon, Women Have to Escape Earth's Gender Bias", was published on July 17, 2019 and immediately caused quite the stir on Twitter. But before I can tell you about the Twitter controversy which I'm saving for the end, I'm going to give you some more information on the history of the Mercury 13 program, that Kowal only summarizes for you in her article. You should really read her whole article, but if you've already read your quota of free NYT articles for the month and don't already have a subscription, never fear, I will summarize it for you later. Back to The Mercury 13.
In the 1950's before anyone had gone to space, Dr. Randolph Lovelace discovered that women might be better suited for space travel than men. Women were "smaller, which would reduce the weight of payloads. They had better cardiovascular health and lower oxygen consumption. And they tolerated higher G-forces and outperformed men on isolation and stress tests." So, he found some likely female candidates and put them through the same rigorous testing as the male candidates for the Mercury program and thus the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLAT) program was born. Thirteen women passed the tests and one of them, Jerrie Cobb, ranked in the top 2% of all astronaut candidates of both genders. However, none of the Mercury 13, as they came to be known years later, ever made it to space. The program was cancelled despite the women lobbying Congress to fight the ruling. In 1995, all of the eleven surviving women were invited to Cape Canaveral to attend the launch of the Discovery shuttle, but only seven of them could make it due to health reasons. The first ever group photo of them was shot there. The other six women were Jane Hart, Janet Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Irene Leverton, Rhea Woltman, and Janey Briggs.
Currently, 537 men have been in space, but only 61 women have made the same journey. The reason the numbers are so unequal is nothing less than gender bias, which Kowal's article does a magnificent job of detailing, and now I will summarize that for you as well.
Originally, the biggest reason that women were excluded was that all candidates had to be a pilot with a minimum of 1,500 hours flying time AND that had graduated from a certified test pilot school. The only test pilot schools were military and did not accept female students until 1976. Of course there were many women in our history who were pilots and had more than enough hours of flying time. The WASPS were a whole division of women who were test pilots during WWII. However, none of them had the official piece of paper. This is the reason that the Mercury 13 program was devised in the first place, to get around that requirement.
In 1979, just three short years after women were finally admitted to test pilot schools, these were the next group of females who were trained for space flight. Every single one of them made it to space eventually. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983 aboard the Challenger space shuttle. In 1986, Judith Resnick was the second American women in space for a brief 73 seconds when the Challenger exploded on takeoff, killing everyone aboard. Sullivan and Fisher both went into space in 1984, Seddon went a year later in 1985, and last but not least, Shannon Lucid finally made it there in 1996 going aboard the Mir space station.
Even so, women in the military were specifically banned from combat duty and not allowed to fly in combat missions until that ban was lifted in 2013. Case in point, Marine Corps Capt. Katie Higgins became the very first female Blue Angel pilot in 2014. But back to the astronauts.
Due to the NASA gender bias that preferred male astronauts, all things space-related were then designed and engineered for men's bodies from the L and XL sizes of the space suits, the space between ladder rungs, to the hand tools sized for a larger grip. The cooling system in the suits were designed for men's sweat patterns and optimized for men's average body temperature. Once peeing in space became a concern, the suits and toilets were designed to fit men's external genitalia. And despite all this, 61 women compensated for these biases and went to space anyway.
Now back to the Twitter controversy. FYI, Mary Robinette Kowal is a Nebula and Hugo-award winning SF author. I'm just going to quote the relevant parts from a rather long and still evolving thread on Kowal's Twitter Feed:
"Let's talk about peeing in space. Several people, in response to my NY Times essay, have said that women couldn't go into space because we lacked the technology for them to pee in space. When the Mercury program was proposed, doctors were worried that people would not be able to urinate or even swallow without the aid of gravity. And yet, they still made plans to send a man into space. When Alan Shepherd became the first American man to go into space, it was scheduled to be a fifteen-minute mission. Up. Hello space! Back down. They made no plans for peeing. Launchpad delays meant that Shepherd hit a point where he needed to go. Badly. He asked Mission Control for permission to go in his suit. After consultation with flight surgeons & suit technicians, they gave him permission to do so. So he wet himself & still went into space. Later, they solved this problem by developing a sheath, that looked much like a condom. It worked great in testing, but when the actual astronauts used it, the sheath kept blowing off and leaving them with pee in their suits. Was this about extended time in the spacesuit? [No.] The sheaths came in small, medium, and large. It turns out, the men were all saying that they needed a Large sheath. They did not. Subsequently, the sheaths were called "Extra-large," "Immense," and "Unbelievable." They had to tape a bag to their ass to poop. That worked well for Gemini and Mercury. And by well, I mean there was still urine in the capsule and it stank of feces. Apollo needed a different solution. Alas, they still had to poop into a bag, but for peeing, they could slip on a condom attached to a valve, turn the valve and have their urine sucked into the vacuum of space. If you timed it right. Open the valve a fraction too late, and urine escaped to float around the cabin. Open it too early and the vacuum of space reached through the valve to grab your manhood. Apparently, the venting of pee into space is very pretty. It catches the sunlight and sparkles. For the spacewalks, the Apollo astronauts were back to condoms that collected the pee in a bag in the suit. Buzz Aldrin was the second man on the moon, but the first to pee there. During Apollo 13, everyone who has seen the movie knows that Fred Haise got sick. Do you know why, though? After the accident, they couldn't use the regular vent, because it needed to be heated to keep the pee from freezing. The alternate system caused droplets to float around the ship. Mission Control told them to stop dumping pee. It wasn't meant to be a permanent ban, but the crew didn't understand that. So they were stashing pee in every bag or container possible. The fastest option was to store it in the collection bags they wore in their suits. Haise kept his on for hours and hours, basically bathing in pee. He got a UTI and then a kidney infection.
Finally, a decade later, NASA decides to send women into space. NOW they have a reason to come up with how to handle peeing in space if you don't have a penis. To launch and for a spacewalk, they developed the MAG Maximum Absorbency Garment. It's a diaper. The men switched over to using those because it was more comfortable and less prone to leave pee floating around the cabin than the condom sheath. They also developed a zero-G toilet so that astronauts no longer had to tape a bag to their ass....All of which is to say that the reason women didn't go into space had nothing to do with lacking the technology to pee. We didn't have the technology for men to pee in space when they started either. And some days, the best solution is still a diaper or a bag taped to the ass.
What about periods in space? - According to women who have been there, "It's just like a period on Earth." It turns out menstrual blood moves via a wicking action. Gravity can speed that up, but is unnecessary. Also, tampons exist. Fun fact: When Sally Ride was preparing to go into space, NASA engineers asked her if 100 tampons would be the right number for a week. She said, "No. That would not be the right number." They cut it back to 50."
Congratulations! Now you know more than you probably ever wish you did about bodily functions in space. If you want to read about farting, erections, or vomiting in space, you can go look up her Twitter page yourself.
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