Honey, Where’s the Space Sperm? It’s in Low-Earth Orbit, Dear

It’s always wise to be prepared for a disaster, but space sperm is taking it a little too far. Having things like food, water, and medicines on hand constitutes a reasonable level of preparation. But now one company wants to freeze your eggs and sperm in space.

A new start-up called SpaceLife Origin has concocted a plan to separate you from your money, by promising to store your sperm and eggs in a satellite. Just in case, you know, a disaster strikes Earth. And you’ll be able to monitor your sperm and eggs in real-time with on-board cameras. On the face of it, the idea might have some merit. It’s a reasonable, logical appeal, isn’t it? But dig deeper into the company’s press release and website, and things start to fall apart. Let’s back up and take a look at the overall vision behind the company.

SpaceLife Origin calls themselves a biotech company, and their eventual goal is to have a live-birth in space. First, they intend to safeguard human eggs and sperm in space by 2020, then they want to make embryo conception in space feasible by 2021. 2024 is the date given for a live-birth in space.

They’re developing technology they call Mission Ark. It’s a satellite that will orbit 300 miles above Earth, where your “offspring” will be “completely secured.” According to the website, they will be kept safe for decades no matter what calamities befall poor old Earth.

Your space sperm will be safe and secure inside the Mission Ark, the satellite being developed by SpaceLife Origin. Image: SpaceLife Origin.

The company tries to sound sciencey by aligning themselves with the ‘humans as a multiplanetary species idea.’ As the company’s Founder and CEO says in a recent press release, “If humanity wants to become a multi-planetary species, we also need to learn how to reproduce in space.” Okay, sounds good.

After they’ve mastered the storage of space sperm and space eggs, which they call Mission Ark, they plan to conceive a child in space. That mission is called Mission Lotus. As the website says, “Sperm cells and egg cells will start forming embryo’s in ‘low earth orbit’ When the embryo’s safely return to earth they will grow further inside their mothers.” Sure, why not.

The third stage of their plan is named Mission Cradle. It’s here that things get even more sketchy. This will be the first baby born in space, in the year 2024. The website tells us, “The next step in our evolution. A pregnant woman will give birth in outer space.” In a mission lasting between 24 and 36 hours, a woman will give birth about 250 miles above Earth. Of course, there will be a medical team with her.

Okay, so there we have it. Space sperm, space fertilization, space birth. A nice tidy sequence.

But let’s dig a little deeper.

A cursory cruise through their website sets off a few alarm bells. It says, “Increasing threats like global warming may lead to an inhabitable (sic) Earth in as soon as a hundred years.” That’s some good fear-mongering right there. No climate models suggest the Earth may be uninhabitable in a hundred years.

If you think that your sperm is so special it needs to be kept safe in orbit, then you might have a personality disorder.

Fertilizing eggs in space might be an experiment worth doing, and it might have some scientific merit. But shouldn’t scientists be the ones doing it? In fact, there’ve already been multiple experiments done, though not with humans. The Japanese did it with fish back in 1998, and things went well. In 2017, the Japanese froze mice sperm in space for months then used it to fertilize mouse eggs. So SpaceLife Origins are not the first ones to experiment with space sperm.

Here’s a look inside the Space Ark. Each of those tubes will hold space sperm or space eggs. Image: SpaceLife Origin

The live human birth idea is a bit more problematic. Lifting off from Earth on a rocket subjects people to 3 G’s. That’s 3 times the normal force of gravity. Is that safe for a pregnant woman? Will she be endangering her unborn child? Would that be a criminal act? Who knows. There are a lot of unanswered questions. Also, how do they know the pregnant woman, if they can find one willing to do it, will give birth in their tight 24 to 36 hour timeline? And according to the website, the live birth will take place on “a space station.” What space station?

There are more questions. Human embryos don’t last that long when frozen. The website suggests they can last decades, but about 14 years might be the limit. Also, what good is frozen space sperm if the Earth suffers a calamity? Who’s going to blast off into space, find it and retrieve it, then deliver it to the right person? Even if all that happens, then what? If, as the company themselves say, climate change may render the Earth uninhabitable, what good are sperm and eggs then?

What about the people behind the company? Surely they have expertise in all these matters.

For a company that bills itself as a biotech company, they’re short on biologists. The company only has one biologist among their group of 5 advisors. His name is Dr. Rafael Elias Marques. He’s a Brazilian mosquito-borne virus researcher with the Brazilian Biosciences National Laboratory, who got his Ph.D. in 2016. So this company, whose mission is to move human life off planet, gets all of their biological advice from a Zika virus researcher 2 years out of his Ph.D. His only paper having to do with human propagation in space is more of a discussion document, and presents no new experimental data.

If you really want to understand what this company is all about, maybe you have to look at the 3 key people at the top. They are:

  • Kees Mulder, CEO and Founder
  • Dr. Egbert Edelbroek, Chief Innovation and Strategy Officer
  • Jeffrey Hayzlett, Strategic Management Advisor

A quick look at their bios raises more questions. Kees Mulder and Egbert Edelbroek are both described as serial entrepreneurs, among other things. Jeffrey Hayzlett is listed as a primetime TV host and an international business celebrity. Are these the people you want freezing your space sperm?

See the big blue dots? Backups of your space sperm will be stored here. Then if the sperm satellite fails, backups can be re-launched. They’ve thought of everything! Image: SpaceLife Origin.

SpaceLife Origin has some things in common with Mars One, the private company that wants to send people off to colonize Mars, and leave them there. Mars One seems to exist just to raise money and create some sort of reality tv documentaries. The idea was torn apart by serious thinkers, as it should have been. It’s not a serious space exploration company.

In the same vein, SpaceLife Origin doesn’t appear to be a serious company when it comes to human colonization of space. Maybe they envision video of a woman giving birth in space and see dollar signs. Serious thinkers will likely tear their ideas apart, just like with Mars One. But what about the people who might be tempted to pay to have their sperm frozen?

If you think that your sperm is so special it needs to be kept safe in orbit, then you might have a personality disorder. If you are thinking of giving SpaceLife Origin your money and your eggs or sperm, you might want to spend that money on therapy instead. It’s the future of humanity as a species that matters, not whether or not any individual can somehow propagate themselves after a global calamity by heading into space to retrieve their frozen space sperm.

This whole idea seems like it was cobbled together pretty quickly with the end goal of making money. It’s hard to take it seriously. If you have enough money to freeze your reproductive material in space, I urge you to just give it to charity. The money, not the sperm.


Evan Gough

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