Six months in space. How will China's first long-haul female astronaut succeed?

Xu Qing Larrissa Leung
China's new "space trio" arrived at the Tiangong space station on Saturday, embarking on the landmark, longest crewed mission to date.
Xu Qing Larrissa Leung
Six months in space. How will China's first long-haul female astronaut succeed?

Wang Yaping will be the first Chinese female astronaut to visit China's space station.

China's new "space trio" arrived at China's new space station on Saturday, embarking on the landmark, longest crewed mission to date.

Wang Yaping, 41, the first female astronaut to visit the Tiangong space station, left many on social media in awe, with many questions about her six-month life in space. But one, in particular, has made headlines.

What happens when she gets her period?

Pang Zhihao, national chief science communication expert of space exploration technology, said in an interview with CNS news agency that whilst research has shown that female astronauts will have normal menstruation in space, decompression sickness may restrict them from performing spacewalks during periods.

The Chinese space station has been well prepared for Wang Yaping's journey.

Tianzhou-3, a cargo spacecraft carrying supplies to the China space station, has sent her sanitary supplies and a few non-toxic cosmetics.

"Female astronauts will probably have a better psychological state wearing makeup," said Pang.

What's more, the space station has even prepared chocolate, desserts and other supplements in the event of heavy blood loss.

Other special preparations to ensure her comfort in space include: the seats in the spaceship and in-cabin space suits and even toilet seats have been adjusted for her comfort.

"Women have slender hands, so even her gloves are tailor-made so that it's more convenient for her to work with equipment," assured Pang.

However, Pang noted that the selection process and training for both male and female astronauts are the same, because spaceflight missions are arduous.

"Astronauts need to meet high physical and emotional standards, so female astronauts will not be exempt from this expectation," Pang said.

Six months in space. How will China's first long-haul female astronaut succeed?

Ye Guangfu, Zhai Zhigang, and Wang Yaping aboard the space station core module Tianhe.

According to Pang, many empirical studies have found that female astronauts are well adapted for executing space missions, and in some respects have an advantage over their male counterparts, in qualities such as attention to detail, communication skills, and thinking comprehensively.

Furthermore, their metabolism for magnesium and levels of estrogen is higher than that of male astronauts, and with lower iron content, their bodies are more suitable for long-term space life. This precludes them from being prone to side effects like iron poisoning and thrombosis.

Pang expects that this expedition will see China's first spacewalk by a female astronaut.

"This is not only an honor for us, but is also an opportunity for us to research the various advantages that female astronauts have when walking outside of the vehicle," Pang said. "Their generally smaller size is an advantage as they'll be able to control their weight better and thus perform a wider variety of tasks."

Astronauts often use themselves as the subjects for their research on aerospace medicine and space life science.

For instance, 77-year-old US astronaut John Hershel Green Jr studied the effects of long-term space life on the physiology and psychology of the elderly population.

Wang Yaping is no different. She plans to study aerospace medicine and space life to prepare future female astronauts for long-term life in space, said Pang.

Launching "Shenzhou 13," in addition to marking China's strong development in space, has also garnered widespread international attention, drawing the interest of many foreign astronauts.

"Several foreign astronauts have already undertaken training in China, including life-saving training in Shandong's Yantai," Pang said.

"Foreign astronauts are veterans and will bring a wealth of advice and experience that will help us achieve new heights.

"The International Space Station may be decommissioned in 2024, so the Chinese Space Station really is considered a new, rising star in the field, and looks forward to sharing mutual strengths to achieve even more. Our scientists can benefit from their experiences and new equipment, and produce faster, and more fruitful results."

When asked about when foreign astronauts will be able to join the space station, Pang said that "it will be after the two experimental modules are connected to the core module."

"China has launched a worldwide collection of scientific experiments, and many have already been approved of quality and safety," Pang said. "Some scientific experiments may even be carried out by foreign astronauts on our spacecraft."

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