In 2011, a report from a National Academy of Sciences emphasized the need to examine the influences that sex has on physiological and psychological or behavioral changes that occur during spaceflight. In response to this request, scientists at NASA conducted a comprehensive study, using years of published and unpublished spaceflight data. The project, which was conducted in conjunction with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, ultimately shed light on how differences between both genders can influence the overall health of astronauts.
The Study: Men vs. Women in Space
In order to carry out the study, the spaceflight data was given to six different workgroups. Each one was focusing on a specific category: cardiovascular, sensorimotor, musculoskeletal, reproductive, immunological or behavioral consequences of space travel. After a thorough examination of the data, each group listed the various differences that arose from exposure to spaceflight vs. exposure to natural environments.
According to NASA, the culmination of these results makes up the most current and comprehensive report on the subject. The findings are now published in the “Impact of Sex and Gender on Adaptation to Space,” an article featured in Journal of Women’s Health.
Some of the most important findings are as follows:
– Orthostatic Intolerance (the inability to stand without fainting for extended periods): Female astronauts tend to experience Orthostatic Intolerance more frequently upon landing than their male counterparts.
– Overall, women have greater blood plasma loss.
– Women astronauts, under stress, experience an increase in heart rate, while men experience an increase in vascular resistance
– VIIP syndrome (visual impairment/intracranial pressure): 62% of women astronauts vs. 82% of male astronauts are affected, although all major clinical cases have occurred in males.
– Females are more susceptible to radiation – induced cancer.
– Females reported higher incidences of space motion sickness (SMS), although more men experience motion sickness upon returning to Earth.
– UTI’s (Urinary tract infection) in space are more common in women.
There were also no observed differences in behavioral or psychological factors due to sex. Similarly, neurobehavioral performance and sleep measures were unaffected.