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James Bond and Dr. Goodhead perform zero-g docking manuevers in the movie "Moonraker"  (Source: United Artists)
Space sex has a long way to go before it gets off the ground

Looking to penetrate deep into realms where scientists seldom explore, NASA biophysicist Tore Straume [profile] (Ames Research Center), radiation expert and particle physicist Steve Blattnig (Langley Research Center), and Cary Zeitlin [profile] (Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory), explored the logistics of sex and procreation in space.  Their conclusions?  It would be hard -- very hard.

Would-be space colonists looking to procreate in space would have it very rough, according to the report.  One of the biggest dangers would be from cosmic rays.

The high-energy protons encountered in deep space could harm male sperm.  They would also likely sterilize any human fetuses conceived in space.  The embryo would likely die during the second half of the pregnancy from these rays.

The only solution would be to adopt better protection, but mankind doesn't currently have a sufficient technology.  States Dr. Straume, "The present shielding capabilities would probably preclude having a pregnancy transited to Mars."

An even greater danger would be solar flares.  Solar flares are giant squirts of matter and energy from the sun during periods of intensely hot solar activity. These solar events would likely bombard the space explorers with even more radiation, raising their risk of miscarriage and infertility.

Also dangerous are high-energy cosmic rays that can travel millions of light years and carry tremendous energy.  Without a way to block these damaging particles, they would likely pass through the spaceship, further damaging the astronauts’ gonads.

When it comes to solar shielding, it appears scientists still have trouble getting it up to speed.  

It is unclear whether anyone has ever had sex in space.  NASA and the Soviety space agency never revealed whether they conducted tests into orbital procreation.  They have what is commonly referred to as "relationships of trust" when it comes to relations between astronauts.  One astronaut husband and wife -- Jan Davis and Mark Lee -- did share a flight together, but NASA and the astronauts would not reveal whether they got their stellar groove on.

Aside from the radiation dangers, given how hard it is to move in space, it might be hard to perform sex in a traditional manner.  But mankind has never had problems getting creative in the sack, so surely life would find a way.

The research is significant as many prominent scientific luminaries, like Steven Hawking, believe that without colonizing other worlds, mankind will likely go extinct within a few million years.

The study on sex in space was published in the peer-reviewed publication, The Journal of Cosmology and is available for free here.

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Sterile Rocket Jockies
By psenechal on 2/14/2011 12:01:09 PM , Rating: 2
Sooo...what about our current crop of astronauts? Are they coming back from these shuttle missions with fertility problems from all the cosmic rays and solar flares they're being exposed to on their missions? That's got to be one helluva waiver they have to sign to go into space if it includes possible sterility as well.

RE: Sterile Rocket Jockies
By VoodooChicken on 2/14/2011 12:25:51 PM , Rating: 2
There's no terrestrial sex problems coming back to earth. I think they're saying there's potential sperm, eggs, and zygotes could die whilst in the exosphere, but not a permanent problem of sterility.

RE: Sterile Rocket Jockies
By bh192012 on 2/14/2011 1:06:36 PM , Rating: 2
Actually the article should clarify, since some of the issues they mention are not as much of an issue when in low earth orbit (protected by the magnetosphere) like the ISS. They're only a problem once you leave Earth orbit. So Apollo astronauts may have had fertillity issues, but not space shuttle astronauts as an example.

So maybe space station crews could make babies while orbiting magnetic planets, but not when flying over the poles or while in non-magnetically shielded space.

RE: Sterile Rocket Jockies
By marvdmartian on 2/15/2011 9:55:37 AM , Rating: 2
One of the things I remember most, from my days going through the navy's nuclear power training, was the day we were learning about the short term/long term effects of ionizing radiation on the human body.

They spoke of how at X number of rads, you would expect this effect on this percentage of people receiving it, etc, finally ending up with telling us that at 1000 rads exposure, you would expect 100% fatality rate. Then they asked for questions.

Of course, someone asked about the effect of ionizing radiation on human sperm (natural, since we were a class of young men). They told us that short term exposure of 1500 rads had proven to effectively kill human sperm, but that we wouldn't have to worry about that...... since it was 1-1/2 times as much exposure as what it would take to kill us!

Human fetuses in the womb, however, are a different story. I don't remember exact figures, but it's a fraction of a percent of exposure to cause irreperable genetic damage to the cells of a fetus, and their threshold for fatality is much lower too. That's why female sailors, currently in the navy's nuclear power program, are required to report pregnancies as soon as they are aware of it (or even expect it), and are immediately removed from any work that would expose them to ionizing radiation.

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