With more and more space tourists, it’s probably only a matter of time before someone has sex in space. That wouldn’t be that much of a problem in itself (probably?). But if a child is conceived in space, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting the fetus could have major health problems.
Not too long ago, the idea of space tourism seemed like a distant possibility. But with recent advancements, it’s become a booming business. But David Cullen, Professor of Astrobiology & Space Biotechnology at Cranfield University, says the space industry is failing to account for at least one potential challenge: people getting frisky.
“Our starting point was a throwaway comment about sex in space, but when we checked, we were surprised the sector has not openly considered the risks and this led to the study,” Cullen explains in a press release.
The researchers and his collaborators published an open paper calling for more attention on the possibility of sex in space, and the possibility of pregnancy in space.
It’s unrealistic to expect all space tourists to abstain during their flights, the researchers argue, and if this does happen, then there’s also a risk of conception. This raises questions about the effects of microgravity and increased levels of ionizing radiation on human reproduction. These effects are still largely unknown, but assumed to have significant negative impact on a fetus.
A quick jaunt into orbit and back is unlikely to impact development, but prolonged exposure to zero-gravity and cosmic radiation is expected to affect the fetus.
NASA has previously carried out some research on animals’ ability to reproduce but found that only some could reproduce in zero gravity, and others could. The researchers are using this new paper as a call to action to study these effects on humans.
The lack of knowledge surrounding these effects underpins the risks within the evolving orbital space tourism sector, the researchers continue. As such, it is crucial to consider potential risk mitigation strategies and further research into this area.
This could also be an opportunity to study human reproduction in space, says Egbert Edelbroek. Edelbroek is the the head of SpaceBorn United, a Netherlands-based organization researching human reproduction in space, and helped to coordinate the study. He argues that if we want to truly become a spacefaring civilization, we absolutely have to study reproduction in space.
“Given the long-term importance of human reproduction beyond Earth, as humanity is trying to become a multi-planetary species, we need to take seriously the possible first step, whether this is planned, or especially if unplanned.”
All in all, with what we know so far, human conception in space seems like a big ‘nope’, especially as the burgeoning space tourism industry has “no mitigation” measures in place. As we continue to continue exploring space more and more, we should also keep an eye on what space travelers explore. Space tourists will have a completely different motivation and background compared to professional astronauts, and sex seems like it could definitely be on the menu in the near future.
Of course, this is pretty much speculation at this time. However, by studying this possibility and establishing clear boundaries and mitigation strategies, we can ensure safe and responsible practices that benefit both individuals and society as a whole. Hopefully.
The paper was presented in a parallel session alongside the upcoming Space Tourism Conference 2023 in Los Angeles, USA.