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19 Jan 2018

When NASA engineers thought women astronauts needed makeup in space

When women joined NASA astronaut corps in 1978, male engineers designed them a thoughtful gift: a makeup kit. They figured females couldn't do without it, even in space.

Quoting Sally Ride, America's first woman to go to space, NASA History Office recently tweeted the incident.

You might be a woman astronaut on-board a spacecraft, but makeup must still be your holy grail.

In context

Of women astronauts and casual sexism

NASA engineers and their infinite wisdom

When sexism overpowers logic


When sexism overpowers logic

There is nothing wrong with taking your favorite lip gloss or mascara to space. Wanting to feel good outside the earth is no crime.

However, it is peculiar that NASA's male engineers should design a makeup kit for women astronauts, especially when it is inadvisable to wear makeup while flying for several obvious reasons such as no moisture and changing air pressure.

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The prototype kit

Makeup kit never been used, now rests in a museum

Personal hygiene kits are part of the standard spaceflight equipment. Those for men have essentials such as soap, lotion, comb, razor, toothpaste/brush.

Women's kit, however, had no room for skincare products, only makeup - everything from eyeliner, mascara to blusher and lip gloss.

Unsurprisingly, it remains unused till date. In 2002, it was given to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Sally Ride: The burden of being the lone woman astronaut


Sally Ride: The burden of being the lone woman astronaut

Ahead of her famed 1983 space mission, the press stormed Sally Ride with sexist, ignorant questions.

She was constantly probed about spacecraft's bathroom facilities and whether she was taking makeup with her.

Once, she was ridiculously asked if she cried over malfunctions in flight simulators. Despite the widespread curiosity, Sally wasn't asked even one question about her job or her training.

The period dilemma

Women were considered unworthy candidates for spaceflight because of menstruation

Even the engineers on Sally's mission fussed more about her menstruation. They suggested taking 100 tampons for a week-long expedition when Sally was sure that not even 50 would be needed.

Notably, in 1961, much before Sally, 13 women were selected for spaceflight. However, despite proven physical fitness, they were dismissed over fears that they wouldn't be able to handle menstruation during space travel.

Situation for female astronauts hasn't changed much over the years


Situation for female astronauts hasn't changed much over the years

Just two years ago, six female cosmonauts were publicly belittled by their seniors.

At the launch of their eight-day spacecraft trial, the director of the host institute in Moscow wished them "lack of conflicts," saying "two housewives find it hard to live together in one kitchen."

Their own experiment director hoped they "might not only be no worse than men but actually better."

Giving it back

'We're here to do our job, not think about men'

The media was as insensitive. They asked the cosmonauts how they would live for eight days without men or makeup. "We are very beautiful without makeup," shot back one of them.

On a question about their hair, another participant fumed, "I don't know how we'll survive without shampoo. Because even in this situation, we really want to stay looking pretty."

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