• By: Sofia Donato

Introducing The Shad Pad — an innovative approach to fighting gender inequality

Above: One winning team of Shad2020's on-line program will build and fly their experiment on a future flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

When thinking about gender equality, one rarely thinks of space exploration, let alone menstruation in space. One group of Canadian students looked to help change this with their project for Shad Canada’s first ever spaceflight competition, in partnership with Blue Origin. Their invention, The Shad Pad, is an innovative approach to fighting gender inequality within the space industry.

Shad Canada is a Canadian STEAM and entrepreneurship program that offers extraordinary experiences for high school students across the country for the past 40 years. This university-based educational program provides students with hands-on experiential learning aimed at teaching youth to make world change.

“Change-making is a part of the core of what makes the Shad experience so worthwhile. People think that because the Shad participants are such brilliant, well-rounded students that their impact is made in designing innovative solutions to novel problems. Certainly, that kind of innovation happens at Shad. But the greater impact is not in external change realized in cool projects, it's actually about internal change made manifest in the realization that surrounding yourself with a high performance team tied together in authentic collaboration is how complex problems are solved and how we make the world a better place. Shad empowers that kind of collaboration,” says Kingsley Hurlington, Shad Canada Program Director.

This past summer, Shad Canada hosted a first-ever spaceflight competition with Blue Origin. Because of COVID-19, program leaders had to pivot and bring the legacy program online with keynote speakers, design sessions, community building and real-time workshops into a compact 100 hours for the month of July. Shad2020 was a successful month of learning and meeting like-minded peers for a remarkable group of grade 11 students. Participants were asked to pitch a microgravity research experiment that they believed would have an impact on humankind. They developed business plans, built prototypes and created videos to pitch their proposed project to win a chance to launch it on Blue Origin space rocket.

Ottawa student, Andy Meng, was named a finalist for their team’s idea, The Shad Pad!

Inspired by the story of Sally Ride, the first American woman who went to space, who was asked if 100 tampons would be enough to last her a week in space, Meng and his fellow Shad Pad team members set out to demonstrate that menstruation can occur normally in space. The goal was to end the current practice wherein female astronauts are given medication to suppress their periods, which has harmful long term mental and physical side effects. If used for an extended period, depression and bone density loss can occur.

Additionally, The Shad Pad aimed to normalize menstruation and encourage space exploration organizations like NASA to end sexism in the industry. Shad Canada gave talented young men and women the opportunity to shed light on important issues happening in the world and offer a solution to it. The students understood that there were problems in the space industry to be addressed and resolved, and worked collaboratively to invent The Shad Pad.

“Working at Shad this summer was an incredible opportunity to provide the brightest young men and women the chance to work on a deeply fascinating project.” concludes Hurlington. “The opportunity to design a virtual experience for the Shad participants meant working with other program directors, industry experts, space scientists, Luna Design and Innovation, and the rest of the Shad community to build an unforgettable experience. The Shad participants responded to the creativity and devotion which make the experience mutually enriching”.

Sixty-two teams took on the challenge, proving their ability to adapt, innovate, and come together under one common goal. All microgravity projects can be viewed in Shad2020 Online Design Project Gallery . Shad Pad was a finalist but Team Mous4Inc’s experiment “Investigating Polyurethane Foam in Microgravity” was selected to build their payload for space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.