NASA Engineers Incorrectly Assumed That Female Astronauts Would Need Makeup Kits for Space
Posted: 18/Jan/2018


“Weightlessness is a great equalizer,” said Sally Ride, a physicist who became the first American woman to travel to space in 1983. That said, gravity—or lack thereof—couldn’t prevent NASA from certain flubs of the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus persuasion. But at least it’s retroactively self-aware, as highlighted by a recent tweet featuring a quote from Ride, which ran alongside a picture of a personal hygiene kit for women, including eyeliner, mascara, eyeshadow, blush, lip gloss, and makeup remover, designed in 1978:
“The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup—so they designed a makeup kit . . .” she says in the quote. “You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit.” Oh, to be a fly on the wall. . . .
But while it’s certainly a woman’s prerogative to wear makeup in space should she want to, and in that sense, was rightfully taken into consideration, it’s a reminder that female hygiene or vanity interpreted through the male gaze can be inherently problematic. After all, it wasn’t the only area in which NASA engineers missed the mark. As the online platform Quartzy was quick to note recently when it ran a story about those historic makeup kits, male engineers were dramatically misinformed when estimating how many tampons Ride might need for a weeklong mission. “Is 100 the right number?” they asked. “No, that would not be the right number,” she replied.
The prototype makeup kit ultimately didn’t make it into space. But in 2018, with the gender divide more top of mind than ever before, unpacking the circumstances that spurred along its assembly back in 1978—namely, the decade’s dearth of women in fields like aerospace and engineering—makes for just one more modern-day reminder that female voices deserve an equal place in the room. And while there’s still a long way to go, NASA offered a much-needed glimmer of hope back in 2016, when it announced that its latest class of astronauts is 50 percent female. Here’s to keeping up that momentum, to Mars and onward.