Friday, July 2, 2010

Space Sex


Anyone buying this? The 200-Mile High Club. Space agencies everywhere want you to believe it doesn't exist. And of course, as soon as I start blathering smugly that I don't court controversy or scandal, the concept of "sex in space" is splashed all over the news.

So let's talk about it. The London Telegraph, NY Daily News, and even TIME journalists are making unfunny quips about Shuttle Discovery Commander Alan Poindexter's recent statement that "We [astronauts] are a group of professionals. Personal relationships are not an issue."

I groaned when I saw this, knowing it will be crammed down every available throat if any two astronauts are so much as photographed hugging. Seems like this subject comes up every few years, the worst episode being the Document 12-571-3570 hoax, I repeat, HOAX... where the 1996 STS-75 mission allegedly completed assignments for testing various carnal positions in weightlessness.

Really? Pretty nifty accomplishment for the all-male crew of STS-75, being that there were no women and certainly no married couples aboard the orbiter (that only happened once, and they were married after the flight assignment had been set) -- but hey, don't let any pesky facts interfere with our all-too-human tendency to be humorously immature about intimate relations.

Case in point, here are some reader comments from the current news sites, regarding Poindexter's quotes:
"So then I guess Tiger Woods will never be an astronaut."
"Yeah, R-i-i-i-i-ight! And the moon is made of Swiss Cheese!"
"Not sure what 'a group of professionals' has to do with no sex. Treating each other with respect does not necessarily mean abstinence. What kind of strange adults are we breeding in the space program??"
"So they are saying: If that shuttle's a rocking don't bother docking."

I have two overall thoughts on this matter rearing it's head again:

1. People need to grow up. Stephen Hawking famously commented that successful off-world exploration and perhaps even the long-term survival of humankind will depend on learning to live and reproduce in space. Many science fiction novels have also examined the possible physics or developmental challenges in practical terms. This area of science is not an American Pie sequel and will be addressed in time.

2. Sexual intercourse has indeed occurred in micro-gravity, just not among humans or large mammals (yet). Studies upon other taxa, such as insects, fish, amphibians and birds are evident in the literature for anyone who actually cares to examine scientific documentation, as opposed to the puerile ramblings of press outlets who trivialize, sensationalize or downright lie.

Ijiri, K: Fish Mating Experiment on STS-65
Freshwater Oryzias latipes mated, laid eggs in space, and these eggs developed normally to hatching in microgravity.

Fritzsch, Bruce: Foetal Rats / Birds Raised in Micro Gravity on STS-66
Deficits in behavioral orientation have been observed in chicks and rats reared in microgravity, suggesting that microgravity may induce the growth of anomalous neuronal connections between the vestibular and motor systems.

Wakayama S: Effects of Microgravity on Mouse Development on STS-80
Sustaining life beyond Earth will require clear understanding of how the space environment affects key phases of mammalian fertilization and reproduction.

You'll notice this is the first post in about two years with no photographs. ;)