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September 14, 2006

Space Hairstyles and Other Silly Questions

The first two spacewalks went smoothly, and there is just one left on Friday. There are a lot of technical things to know about spacewalking: the low pressure of the suits that requires them to campout in the airlock overnight in preparation; the names of the tools, the path they will follow (the low and the high road refer to their position below or above the truss); the timeline of events, and the complicated procedures they will execute.

But a few weeks ago, sitting there at JSC in the crew press conference, all of that technical stuff sort of went right over my head. What I really longed to know, that only another woman with long hair like Heidi could tell me, was what in the heck do you do with your hair during a spacewalk?

Too embarrassed to ask such a silly question during the press conference where the other reporters were focused on how many days the crew could stay on the ISS if Atlantis were too damaged to return (110 days), and other grim technical details of the mission, I resorted to rushing up to her afterwards and asking her privately. (The NASA photographer took our picture. You can see it here: Note I’m wearing my NSS pin!)

She laughed and said that actually, quite a few people had asked her that question. So for all of you ladies (and you curious gentlemen) who want to know…

Heidi kindly demonstrated her spacewalking hairstyle for me. She pulled the hair back like you would do for a pony tail. Then she twisted it counterclockwise until it was fairly tightly wound. Then she coiled it around into a flat bun just above her neck. A few pins or a clip are enough to hold it in place.

This practical solution gets the hair out of the way of the helmet vent that blows air from the top of the head down over the face. Being in freefall, the hair is of course weightless, so she can’t even feel it pressing down on the back of her head.

So ladies, if you like your hair long, don’t worry about having to cut it to go into space. Heidi has proven that it is not a problem, even for tough jobs like spacewalking! And even better, Shannon Lucid kindly explained to me at one press conference that you hardly ever have to wash your hair in space because it is not rubbing against your scalp and getting oily.

Living in space is sounding better and better. No wrinkles, no bras, no uncomfortable shoes, a smaller waist, and no-wash, always fluffy hair that is pinned out of the way in one easy motion. Moving around with the touch of a finger. I could get used to that.

I’m grateful to the station and shuttle crews, and especially to the women, who are doing the hard jobs and taking risks to open the frontier, but showing that being in space is also fun. Our first female tourist will be setting yet another milestone for women next week: Anousheh Ansari will launch on Sunday night at 11:09 PM (Houston time), and arrive on the station in the wee hours of Wednesday (hatch opening scheduled for 3:10 AM). Too bad I didn’t get a chance to attend one of her press conferences. I have a few other silly questions I’d like to ask!

Marianne Dyson

Posted by m_dyson at September 14, 2006 02:13 AM



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