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A lack of gravity could prevent interstellar travelers from reproducing, which is vital to successfully making it to their destination 4 light-years away

Traveling to another star introduces a list of potential problems. One major issue is that the closest star is 4 light-years away, where one light-year is equal to 6 trillion miles. Such a journey could take decades to centuries to complete, meaning the humans aboard would have to procreate, but experts say space sex is just another bullet point on the list of possible hindrances associated with the voyage to the stars.

The problem with space sex is the lack of gravity, according to Athena Andreadis, biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

"Sex is very difficult in zero gravity, apparently, because you have no traction and you keep bumping against the walls," said Andreadis. "Think about it: You have no friction, you have no resistance."

After sex, there's the birthing process to think about. According to Andreadis, giving birth in zero gravity would be "hell" because gravity and the weight of the baby help the process along.

Microgravity has been known to have negative effects on the human body over time, such as impaired vision, atrophying muscles, reduced blood volume and diminished bone mineral. If microgravity can have such effects on the human body, it could likely harm a fetus or cause birth defects.

Dan Buckland, an MIT researcher who spoke on the topic of space sex and traveling to the stars at the 100-Year Starship Symposium, said that it is currently unknown what gravity has to do with successful reproduction and birth in space, but large starships with the ability to simulate gravity onboard that is also self-sustainable for such a long journey would be required.

While we are far from even that sort of technological development, there is yet another challenge even further ahead in the future if humans were to travel to a star: finding a habitable planet to settle.

Experts say other habitable planets will unlikely mimic Earth, hence, the human settlers would need to live in a dome with an Earth-like biosphere or terraforming the planet as a whole, which is terribly difficult. Terraforming is the process of modifying a planet's atmosphere, temperature, ecology or surface topography in order to make it more similar to Earth.

"Not only are we bad at terraforming, but we don't have the life span or the attention span to carry it through," said Andreadis. "Terraforming is a failure of the imagination. It's like people who take those expensive trips to Paris and eat at McDonald's."

Andreadis even mentioned genetically engineering humans to make it so they can journey to a star and live on another planet without complications, but this raises ethical issues of creating an entirely different second species of human.


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RE: Centripetal Force?
By theapparition on 10/3/2011 12:04:09 PM , Rating: 2
This has been the solution in science fiction for decades, and it will work fine in real life.

It does consume resources, and costs extra mass and dimensional space. So alternatives are always investigated.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By MozeeToby on 10/3/2011 12:12:44 PM , Rating: 2
There is no realistic alternative though, I'd be shocked if we can send people successfully to the surface of mars let alone the stars without a rotating habitat. Does anyone remember the images of the Russians carrying the Mir cosmonauts out of the return capsules? Now imagine them landing on Mars after a year long trip with no support staff and dozens of things that need to be done just to ensure survival.

I say when we do the first Mars mission we spin them up to half a G, with a few outriggers up to a full G so that we can run a few experiments on rodents during the trip and figure out what is actually necessary for successful reproduction.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By Steve1981 on 10/3/2011 2:33:08 PM , Rating: 2
There is no realistic alternative though

What about harnessing the power of magnetism combined with specialized space suits? Not a perfect solution, but I wonder if it could help with the effects of high acceleration rates as well.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/3/2011 2:39:37 PM , Rating: 2
That would help you get around, sure. But it wouldn't be gravity or even simulated gravity. You would just be floating around inside a magnetized suit, essentially. Your white blood cells and muscles would still experience the same effects of zero gravity.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By Steve1981 on 10/3/2011 3:04:12 PM , Rating: 3
Nothing that can't be cured by a high iron diet!


RE: Centripetal Force?
By JediJeb on 10/4/2011 2:47:25 PM , Rating: 2
but I wonder if it could help with the effects of high acceleration rates as well.

Hydrolic acceleration couches would work better. This is where the body is suspended in liquid during high G acceleration, it helps to distribute the load more evenly on the body. At least that is one theory.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By theapparition on 10/3/2011 4:30:33 PM , Rating: 2
Not quite true.

You could always accelerate at 1G towards your target, and midway turn around and decelerate 1G.

Of course this requires that said craft would be capable of the energy required to constantly accelerate.

Just an example of some of the ideas I've heard. So there are other alternatives. As to whether they are practical is another matter.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By EricMartello on 10/3/2011 12:13:04 PM , Rating: 2
Or we could just design the ship to be shaped like tube so that the entire vessel could rotate to simulate gravity. In the center could be stationary sections that hold comm equipment, scanners and such.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By MozeeToby on 10/3/2011 12:29:24 PM , Rating: 3
The problem with that is the sizes involved. Coriolis forces are expected to cause severe motion sickness in most people if the craft spins at more than 2RPMs. To get a full G your tube needs to have a radius of 224 meters. You could screen your crew for people resistant the effects that would weed out a lot of otherwise qualified people and still require a larger than practical craft.

Easier would be to have a habitat on one end of a tether and a counter weight on the other that contains everything else. The 'tether' could be relatively thick, even thick enough to allow crew access to the counterweight if need be, but doesn't require a full loop which is pretty expensive weight wise.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By BurnItDwn on 10/3/2011 1:57:10 PM , Rating: 2
224m for 1G, yes, but artificial gravity does not need to match that of earth. If people are going on a "1 way trip", then at most, they would need the artificial g's to be similar to that of the destination. And even then, the main benefit of having that much G is so that the crew can stay in decent physical shape....

Even 0.25g should be plenty for the trip assuming the crew lift weights to avoid losing too much muscle mass

Also, anything going on a decades or centuries long journey is going to be colossally giant, and probably won't be practical until something like a space elevator is built....

RE: Centripetal Force?
By Stuka on 10/3/2011 3:12:09 PM , Rating: 2
I would suggest a BowFlex instead of a weight set. At 1/4 the gravity you would need a lot of extra weights. ;)

RE: Centripetal Force?
By EricMartello on 10/4/2011 3:32:10 PM , Rating: 2
I think the people who embark in that voyage will be the type who can adjust to a little motion sickness...also, expected to cause doesn't mean will cause. They should test it on a smaller scale before writing it off as impractical.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By Jaybus on 10/3/2011 2:16:23 PM , Rating: 3
Really? Who says it will work? We don't know how this affects things at the molecular level. There is clearly loss of blood cells, etc. when in microgravity, and we do not know whether spinning a large craft would alleviate these problems or not. It is NOT the same as gravity.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By lyeoh on 10/3/2011 2:56:37 PM , Rating: 2
Based on current theory it's the same.

Anyway it sure makes for a better experiment and project than wasting lots of money and resources trying to send people to Mars or resend them to the Moon.

Succeed in this first and sending people to Mars might become unimportant or even irrelevant. Once you can build sustainable space colonies, you can move them to near the asteroid belt for easier access to resources.

RE: Centripetal Force?
By jihadjoe on 10/6/2011 9:34:49 AM , Rating: 2
Or for no additional cost we can have teh space ship do barrel rolls all the way to alpha centauri.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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