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This is What Happens When Female Astronauts Have Their Period In Space

May 13, 2016 03:50 AM EDT

Floating tampons--this is just about the closest image you'll have when thinking about female astronauts dealing with menstrual periods in space.

So what do women in space do when it's that time of the month and they happened to be outside Earth?

While most human body systems undergo changes during spaceflight, the female menstrual cycle, however, remains unchanged. As it turns out, women don't fuss that much about their periods while in space.

"When women first went into space, it wasn't known what the effects would be," said Varsha Jain, gynecologist and researcher at Kings College London and among the authors of a recent study on menstruation during spaceflight. "It can happen normally in space and if women choose to do that, they can."

In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to venture into space. After Tereshkova, 60 more women have completed space missions. As it seems, menstrual periods aren't such a big deal after all.

According to a NASA spokesman, all astronauts at NASA undergo individual assessments based on their specific needs, physiology and the duration of their space mission. "Protocols allow for several choices, the individual treatment selected for any particular astronaut is a private matter between the astronauts and their flight surgeon."

Waste disposal is not a problem in space either. There are appropriate facilities for disposal of human blood on board the international space station. The issue of women having their periods in space is more on the practical side, as there will be calculations for the added weight of tampons and sanitary towels.

But in reality, these issues aren't really a concern. A lot of female astronauts don't want to deal with menstrual periods, so they choose to skip their periods altogether through taking oral contraceptives.

While taking the pill to miss a few weeks' menstrual period should make sense medically, how about space missions that last for several months or even years? Is it safe?

"No research has been done on long-term use of contraceptives in space," says Jain. "What we do know from long-term use on earth is you can take it back to back for many years."

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