It certainly was a day of firsts. The Chinese spacecraft Shenzhou-9, launched from the Gobi desert on June 16, officially rendezvoused with the Chinese space station Tiangong-1, making it the first craft to do so. Aboard was Liu Yang, the eighth "taikonaut" (from taikong, meaning "space" in Mandarin), who happens to be the first Chinese woman to fly into space. And, in another apparent first, she was tested beforehand to make sure she had no scars or bad breath.
Actually, no, that last one isn't a first at all. For some time now, the CNSA, or China National Space Administration, has tested all prospective taikonauts for halitosis.
It makes sense, in a way
According to China's Global Times and NASA's Spaceflight.com, Yang underwent the usual battery of tests for space travelers, plus a few that may sound, um, atypical. The Times included the latter in an odd little checklist. Apparently, Yang had to be:
- A mother
- Bad breath-free, and
- Foot disease-free
Hmm. The requirement against halitosis makes a little sense, as does the one about foot odor. After all, being crammed with two other people into a small space might lead to some odor-based irritation - and the Tiangong-1 is very small (check out side-by-side comparisons of it with the International Space Station).
About the prohibition against scars, the Global Times explained that they might bleed - or, as Chinese officials told BBC News, "burst open." And as for needing to be a married mother, we have no idea how that affects space travel.
Rigorous requirements, vigorous breath treatments
The CNSA isn't the only agency to require a lot from its recruits. NASA asks budding astronauts to be between 4' 10" and 6' 4" tall, with a resting blood pressure of 140/90, eyesight of 20/200 or better (vision correction allowed) and at least a bachelor's degree. While you do have to pass a rigorous physical exam, it's unclear if they test for bad breath.
Regardless of whether you're going into space or going to work, consider using a specialty breath freshening product to prevent halitosis from cramping your style.
And many congratulations to Liu Yang!
Fun fact: Her launch date, June 16, 2012, was the 49th anniversary of the launch of Vostok 6, in which Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel into outer space.