Women have been an integral part of United States space crews since the initial flight of Dr. Sally Ride in 1983, and a total of 40 women have been selected as U.S. astronauts. This article examines the reproductive and gynecological aspects of selecting, training, medically certifying, and flying women in space. Gynecological data from the astronaut selection cycles in 1991 to 1997 are reviewed. In addition, the reproductive implications of delaying childbearing for a career as an astronaut and the impact of new technology such as assisted reproductive techniques are examined. The reproductive outcomes of U.S. female astronauts after spaceflight are also presented.
Because women have gained considerable operational experience on the Shuttle and Mir, the unique operational considerations for preflight certification, menstruation control and hygiene, contraception, and urination are discussed. Medical and surgical implications for women on long-duration missions to remote locations are still evolving, and enabling technologies for health care delivery are being developed. There has been considerable progress in the development of zero-gravity surgical techniques, including laparoscopy, thoracoscopy, and laparotomy. The concepts of prevention of illness, conversion of surgical conditions to medically treatable conditions, and surgical intervention for long-duration spaceflights are explored in detail. There currently are no operational gynecological or reproductive constraints for women that would preclude their successful participation in the exploration of our nearby solar system.
Target Audience: Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Family Physicians
Learning Objectives: After completion of this article, the reader will be able to describe the various gynecological and reproductive issues for women involved in space travel and to explain how these issues can be managed, and also to be able to describe the appropriate evaluation for a woman entering the astronaut training program.