Now that Elon Musk has announced his plans to not only send humans to Mars, but to settle the Red Planet permanently – which, presumably, means things like dating, marriage, babies, etc., in outer space – a lot of people are curious just how exactly some of those things would work.
Basically, because we’re humans and we have like three things we really care about, people want to know whether sex is going to be (more) complicated in space. And I mean, eventually we’ll get to questions like “how will it affect our pizza?” and “will the living quarters provide enough alone time?” I’m sure.
For now, here’s what we know:
- No one (that we know of) has ever tried having sex in space before, even though there has been at least one married astronaut couple who launched together.
- Between space sickness, struggling to hold onto each other in microgravity, and blood-flow problems (hello, penis issues), physical complications seem inevitable.
- Because zero gravity works the way it does, things could also get messy – like bodily fluids could just go floating around, messy. For these reasons (and others), NASA physician Jim Logan told NBC that sex in space would likely have to be “choreographed.”
Some people have discussed solving the problem by sending only married couples (preferably older ones) on the first missions to Mars. After all, the trip is likely to take at least 80 days, with some more realistic projections guessing 6 months, and that’s a long time for people to, you know…go without.
Then again, I’m married, and that’s a pretty long time for me to go without, too, so what’s the difference?
Even if married couples could prove to have a positive and stabilizing role on long missions, having a community made up of a single demographic presents its own issues. Not only that, but as we know, relationships are complicated, and I’m guessing that breaking up or divorcing on a ship you’re never going to be able to leave – until you get to a planet that’s a 6-month trip from home – would be more than a little awkward.
According to sports psychologist Elisabeth Rosnet, we can start by cutting out anyone who’s young and single, at least in the beginning. That group is prone to what she calls “seduction behaviors” as well as frustration, rivalries, and sexual harassment.
Which brings me to yet another startling complication of space travel: radiation.
It can render people infertile, and there’s no real way to predict what sort of genome consequences we’re looking at without a chance to do long-term scientific studies. I doubt people are going to keep signing up to head to Mars if everyone’s kids there are missing limbs or are born with other severe birth defects due to radiation levels.
Since pregnancy also presents problems that we’re not currently able to solve (we’ve tested zero gravity and microgravity pregnancies in mice, with less than stellar results), researcher Sheryl Bishop has this (rather stunning) suggestion:
“If we meet Elon Musk’s schedule and we’re rolling out a team to Mars in the next decade, I think that the only ethical thing is that every single person on board would have to agree to be sterilized because the risk to the fetus is catastrophic and you can’t do that ethically.”
It’s possible that, if Musk’s experiment took hold, a lab could be built on Mars with artificial gravity. Women could live there for the full 9 months of their pregnancy, in theory. I’m thinking it’s too soon to start dreaming about being the first person to give birth to a Martian, but what do I know?
Basically, getting to Mars is only going to present us with a whole new set of problems when it comes to relationships, sex, and procreation (among others, I’m guessing). It will be interesting to watch the plans develop and change as scientists work out all of the kinks – or not – and the first humans board a Musk ship to the Red Planet.
I can’t believe I just typed that.
h/t: The Verge