Monday, February 14, 2011

Hazards of Space Would Make Sex Up There Tricky

Here's some future Valentine's Day news: Future space colonists would likely be unable to procreate because of the ionizing radiation that permeates the solar system, according to a paper by NASA researchers.

Radiation would probably sterilize female eggs as well as reduce male sperm counts, making it difficult if not impossible to conceive in space. If people were able to conceive, the developing embryo's DNA could be damaged, causing serious birth defects. And even if space travelers give birth to a healthy baby, the newborn girls will likely be sterile, preventing the continuation of the colony.

The researchers noted that current space shield technology is not advanced enough to protect space travelers from harmful radiation, especially from solar flares and galactic cosmic rays. Once Mars colonists were on the Red Planet, they could conceivably use Mars rock to build shelters, but after nine months of traveling, it may be too late.

The paper is by Tore Straume, a radiation biophysicist at NASA's Ames Research Center; Steve Blattnig of NASA Langley Research Center; and Cary Zeitlin of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder. It appears in the online Journal of Cosmology, which has published some provocative papers about space colonization in the past several months.

Granted, the likelihood of sterilization does not mean Marstronauts should engage in any consequence-free extraterrestrial rendezvous. Au contraire, says a companion paper in the journal, which outlines the special complications of sexual relationships in space. That paper, by Rhawn Joseph of the Brain Research Laboratory, suggests women astronauts may be in danger of rape; that sexual tensions could lead to violence (as evidenced by the case of former astronaut Lisa Nowak); and that the act itself might be quite complicated in zero gravity.

NASA is mum on whether any astronauts have ever had sex in space, and the agency points to a strict code of conduct that upholds 'relationships of trust' among astronauts at all times. But the affair between Nowak and shuttle pilot William Oefelein proves it happens on Earth, for sure. As the Independent points out, the only husband-and-wife team on the same mission - Jan Davis and Mark Lee - are also mum as to whether they joined the 62-mile high club.

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