Questions for Women Astronauts
Personal telephone interview with Astronaut Peggy Whitson on June 10, 2009 by Keliann LaConte, education specialist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI)
The following are notes from an interview with Astronaut Peggy Whitson. The questions were posed by a group of participants at the LPI's April 15–16, 2009 NASA Space Science Workshop in Raleigh, North Carolina and used as the basis for this interview. Questions posed by the interviewer are shown in italics.
How do you keep your skin moisturized? It's not too much of a problem. It's more of a problem getting the oils off of your skin. We have very different washing techniques. We use Russian-provided wipes that are really good at removing the dirt. We also have soap bags. You add water and squirt it on through a straw. Some crew members have scalp issues, though; the scalp gets really dry.
Is your shoe size smaller in space? We don't wear shoes for the most part. We have sock feet all the time. When I put shoes on to run on the treadmill they feel tight. Is that because they are too small or just unfamiliar after being in sock feet? It's because they're unfamiliar. After being in space a couple months, you lose the calluses on bottom of your feet, so you get great-looking feet. We get calluses on top of our feet, though. Why is that? From using toe rails. You get calluses on the top of your feet, but lose them off the bottom.
How do you care for your hair in space? What are the main "mane" issues? We have different types of shampoos onboard. They're technically "no-rinse," but they leave my hair feeling gunky. I use a water bag with no soap to get it out. Because of the surface tension, the water sticks to the scalp. You rub it in and towel dry. Then I do it again. I have short hair, so has a lot of body in orbit! Do you keep it short to make it easier to manage in space? No, I just always keep it short. Some crew members have really long hair, some short. Some guys don't cut their hair on long flights and it gets long.
How do you maintain your privacy in the midst of all the men? We have our own little crew station. It's about 2.5 x 2.5 x 6.5 ft. in there. We keep our sleeping bags there; it's closed off; you can keep family pictures in there; you can read in there. Every crew member has a private place to go when you want to get away from everyone else.
What happens to skin — more/less facial wrinkles? Less! Just another reason to love zero gravity. And that's because of the fluid shift, mainly. On earth, fluids pool at your feet. In orbit they're evenly distributed, so the face is fuller and that reduces wrinkles.
As a minority, do the male astronauts treat you any differently? Well, I think, you know, everyone is treated as an individual. It's lucky I work with such a great group of people. Everyone is treated individually, by the ability to do the job. Whether you're male or female is pretty much irrelevant.
Have there ever been any sexual harassment issues among astronauts? None that I know of. Again, I think we work with a really great group of folks. We're really supportive of each other. We work with people we can always count on.
October 19, 2009