Sally Ride, when asked if 100 would be the right number of tampons, responded, "That would not be the right number."
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 4, 2020. It has since been updated.
If you spent any time at all on social media in late 2020, you likely came across Christa B. Allen's Instagram Reel in which she sings along to a song about 100 tampons. "Remember when NASA sent a woman to space," she beings to mouth, "for only six days and they gave her 100 tampons?" The song, originally written by comedian Marcia Belsky, has gained popularity. The song is actually based on a true story. When NASA sent the first woman to space, Sally Ride, they really did equip her with 100 tampons for an expedition that lasted seven days, Vox reports.
Ann Friedman, who wrote a profile about Ride, described just how spectacularly male scientists had failed the astronaut. She writes, "[In preparation for Ride's trip aboard the Space Shuttle] Tampons were packed with their strings connecting them, like a strip of sausages, so they wouldn’t float away. Engineers asked Ride, 'Is 100 the right number?' She would be in space for a week. 'That would not be the right number,' she told them." Apparently, those in charge of the expedition simply "wanted to be safe." While there are many questions about what exactly Ride had to "be safe" from, it is comical to think about the lack of basic biology that actual NASA scientists do not know.
Furthermore, it highlights the need for equitable gender representation in all fields, particularly STEM. If some of the most intelligent men in the country are not aware of what goes on in a menstruator's body, what better evidence do we need to put actual menstruators in places where these decisions are being made? Of course, this incident also makes starkly evident the abysmal state of fact-based biology and sex education in the United States. 100 tampons? Really, NASA?
Now, some folks have argued that Ride's expedition took place in 1983, when "gender budgeting" as such was not really a concept in STEM. However, even if 1983 seems like a really long time ago, we definitely had more information about how long menstrual cycles lasted back then. For those unaware, a menstruator's period will last typically anywhere from two to eight days. During this time, it is recommended to change tampons every four to eight hours. So, by simple math, that means the most the average menstruator will need is a little over 40 tampons. Well, we're glad Sally Ride was equipped with enough tampons to last her almost three months for a week-long trip.
Thankfully, things are changing. More women astronauts than ever before are part of NASA. Though women overall still only make up a third of NASA's entire workforce, this number is expected to change in the future as more young girls are encouraged to join STEM fields. In the meantime, we can all listen to Belsky's comical tune about Ride's 100 tampons. Sing along with us, won't you? "And they asked, 'Will that be enough?' 'Cause they didn't know if that was enough... These are our nation's greatest minds..."