NASA Needs to Take Space Sex Seriously

by Ian O'Neill on July 12, 2008

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The space station - long-period space missions can cause tension on board (NASA)
The US space agency needs to have better consideration for the sexual needs of their astronauts during long missions in space. Also, more research needs to be done to investigate human embryo development in zero-gravity or low-gravity environments, especially if NASA is serious about setting up a colony on Mars in the next 30 years. These warnings have been issued by a NASA advisor at a time when the agency doesn’t have enough funds allocated for human space physiology. These concerns are by no means trivial, basic human needs and the ability to procreate beyond Earth may be critical for missions lasting years…

At a time when the question “Can we have sex in space?” is becoming more and more popular by the future space tourists hoping to become a member of the 100-mile high club, a serious issue is beginning to surface for our long-term presence in space. Humans have needs, and although the astronauts selected by NASA, ESA and the other international space agencies are highly professional individuals, Dr Jason Kring, a NASA advisor and assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, has pointed out that sexual desire is as potent as the need for water and food. “But the bottom line is that, like hunger and thirst, sex is a basic biological motive,” he said in an interview with the UK’s Sunday Telegraph. “The potential round-trip mission to Mars could take three years. It doesn’t make sense to assume that these men and women are going to have no thoughts of it for three years. Nasa and other space agencies should address this in their training and in crew selection.” Kring suggests our future long-term space explorers should replicate what the early polar explorers did and take a colleague as a lover to minimize sexual frustration.

It is difficult to predict the stresses long-term missions into space and to other planets may cause, but there is a very practical reason for this worry. Heightened stress on a spaceship will create an increased risk of confrontations, lack of focus and mission failure. When considering a possible 3-year mission to Mars, mission scientists will want the crew to be as calm and stress-free as possible.

Kring adds that future manned spacecraft to the Moon and Mars should be designed to optimize the privacy of astronauts so relationships can be consummated. This basic human need was recognized by explorers here on Earth where South Pole expedition members took on “expedition spouses” as sexual partners for the duration. When the expedition was over, the explorers would return home to their families and spouses. Pairing up with a colleague therefore sidesteps the biological issues of the possibility of “going without” for months, or years at a time. There are obvious questions surrounding the psychological effect of taking on “expedition spouses” (especially the effect on the partners waiting here on Earth for the astronauts return!), but the biological question will at least have an answer.

The fact remains however, that we are naive of the effects of sex in space, let alone if it is even a pleasurable experience. The mechanics of “human docking procedures” (as described by tests carried out by the Russian space agency) are a lot more complicated when in zero gravity. NASA researchers have pointed out that additional problems include motion sickness, increased sweating and a drop in blood pressure – all of which are big problems for astronauts in space.

There are also huge ethical questions hanging over possible pregnancies in space. Zero-G tests on rat embryos produced decreased skeletal and brain development, the effects on a human embryo will remain a mystery. Also, even if astronauts are having sex for purely recreational reasons, the effectiveness of oral contraception has been brought into question, making the whole procedure highly problematic, risking accidental pregnancies (something no space agency is prepared for, especially during missions to the Moon or Mars).

The fact remains that NASA continues to cut back biological research in favor of future Moon missions, so much about human sexuality in space will remain a mystery. This point is highlighted by a NASA spokesperson who stated, “We don’t study sexuality in space.”

Source: Sunday Telegraph

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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

CR Copeland September 8, 2008 at 2:56 PM

I think human evolution is to the point where the issue of “sexual need” is disgustingly inconsequent. The obvious point being over-looked is mankind’s Will to Power, something that we’ve aquired over thousands of years to let us overcome our base instincts.

Not “getting to have sex” can be emotionally taxing, but astronauts also aren’t just thugs pulled in off the streets either. If the issue is a “need to feel good,” or a “need to feel whole,” supplements could provide long-term astronauts with relief from stress, as could focusing exercises. Historically speaking, many walks of life (not just religious wackos) have found that removing sexual urges through celebacy and focus helps to sharpen awareness.

As much as we like to think that we’re just “animals,” putting the human race in a box such as that for too long will inevitably stunt the evolutionary process. If there are other beings traveling the cosmos from planets outside of our own system, I doubt “getting laid” was ever on the agenda prior to thier journey. But we’re young.

John October 13, 2008 at 6:35 PM

It’s just sex.

vishal October 13, 2008 at 7:13 PM

Married couples go without sex for months …years …i don’t see what the hoopla is all about….

Adrian November 14, 2008 at 1:36 PM

I see some morally righteous religious nuts commenting here. Now really, since you still believe Earth is flat why are you commenting about space sex? The hypocrisy …
Geez (pun intended), you would like to control sex even if you don’t “believe” in a space ship.

“Religious orders make good explorers”. Yeah right, they can pray and sing (“How I love you How I love you Jeeeesus”) their way throu the darkness of space like a bacon of light. A beacon, whatever.

jade March 14, 2009 at 2:29 PM

First of all, sex is not a “need” for an individual human being. For the species in general, of course, but for the individual, no. It is a want, a desire, an urge. Animals and children may be ruled by their urges and instincts; adult humans should not be. As rational beings, we should be able to decide if and when to act upon our desires. Lack of sex will not kill you. It may be uncomfortable, and possibly distracting, for a while, but will become easier to manage with time and discipline. Since I expect our space explorers would be intelligent and strong-willed people, they should have little problems mastering their sexual urges in much the same way they would master their fears and tempers. If a recovering alcoholic can spend a lifetime saying “no” to alcohol, our “best and brightest” can spend a couple years saying “no” to sex.
Now that that’s out of my system, I can move on to the discussion of reproduction in space. If we are to begin actually colonizing space, there will definitely need to be serious study into its effects on human reproduction. An inabilty to establish healthy, self-sustaining populations due to negative effects on our young could severely retard our efforts to expand out into the universe. The results of these sorts of studies, combined with current levels of technology and medical knowledge, would certainly affect what sorts of missions we are prepared to set out on at any given time.

Rich April 3, 2009 at 11:11 PM

This is really quite sad. We are not feral animals driven by instinct, we are human beings driven by motive and reason.

“(especially the effect on the partners waiting here on Earth for the astronauts return!)”

… wtf!

The sheer audacity that someone would expect their partner to wait on earth while they’re of shagging someone in space.

Disgusting.

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