Saturday, 12 July 2008

Lust in space: Nasa must iron out the kinks in space sex if man is to settle on Mars

By Tim Shipman in Washington


America must begin preparing astronauts for sex in space if it is serious about sending humans to Mars, according to an adviser studying the best gender balance of crews for the next wave of space travel.

Lust in space: Nasa must iron out the kinks in space sex if man is to settle on Mars


Did the Earth move for you? Astronauts must practice space sex if mankind is to settle other planets, a US academic has said

Astronauts may have to emulate polar explorers and take a colleague as a lover for the duration of their three year mission, to minimise sexual frustration.

The recommendation comes from Dr Jason Kring, an assistant Dressor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, which counts several astronauts and fighter pilots among its former students.

He said the US space agency needs to study of the practicalities and dangers of sex and pregnancy in space and should factor the need for more privacy into the design of spacecraft intended to return to the Moon after 2015 before flying to Mars to set up a permanent manned base on Mars in the decade after that.

He made the suggestion last week on, a website dealing with space issues that is widely read in the industry.

Dr Kring, who first raised the issue on a specialist website, told The Sunday Telegraph: "The men and women whom we select to go back to the Moon, and then on to Mars, will be professionals fully committed to the mission.

"But the bottom line is that, like hunger and thirst, sex is a basic biological motive. 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 issue in their training and in crew selection."

Even when at its closest to Earth, Mars is always at least 45 million miles away - 180 times further than the Moon.

Dr Kring's research involves placing highly trained pilots and military personnel in stressful situations and confined spaces, to judge how best to combine men and women on long duration space flights.

He believes that Nasa could learn from the operation of bases at the South Pole, where researchers who are separated from their families for months at a time take "expedition spouses" as sexual partners for the duration..

He said: "You have an exclusive relationship with them for six to nine months but when the expedition is over, so is the relationship and you return to your normal lives and families."

He added: "The polar environment has similar characteristics of isolation and confinement to space. Most of the evidence suggests that the addition of women there has had a positive effect on these traditionally all male crews."

The notion of sex in space is attracting growing attention. Earlier this month US and Japanese firms First Advantage and Rocketplane Global announced that they would offer weddings in space for $2.3m.

Last month Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's venture to send tourists into space, revealed that it has already received several requests from couples seeking to be the first to have sex in space.

In fact that crown may already have been claimed in 1992 by a pair of married astronauts who flew together on the Shuttle, but Jan Davis and Mark Lee have never discussed whether they joined the 100-mile high club.

Dr Kring, who has former students working on spacecraft design for Nasa and private space contractors, says designers should "provide privacy" for men and women and potentially for discreet sex in space.

It is thought that the Russian space agency has done work on what some euphemistically call "human docking procedures" in earth orbit. But Nasa is more tight-lipped. Two years ago when Nasa doctor Jim Logan told a conference that sex in space could induce motion sickness, he was careful to stress that he was speaking in a private capacity.

Other problems include the tendency to sweat more in zero gravity and a drop in blood pressure, potentially making sex in space a clammier experience and less easy for the man to rise to the occasion.

Most serious are the dangers of conceiving away from the earth's gravity. Russian studies with pregnant rats showed a decrease in both foetus skeleton and brain development in zero gravity. The gravity of the Moon is one sixth of that on earth and on Mars it is a third.

Dr Kring said: "The biggest consideration would be if on one of these early expedition missions to Mars we have a pregnancy in space. There are a lot of big ethical issues, particularly if the embryo is not going to develop properly." Oral contraceptives, like some other medicines, may not work well in space.

Ultimately, if man is to have the option of living on Mars, more research will be needed that Nasa appears to be squeamish about conducting.

"If human kind is going to extend its presence beyond earth, at some point we are very seriously going to have to consider: can we procreate on another world?" Dr Kring said. "If a child is born on another planet, could that individual come back to earth and live in the one G environment. Could they function? To expect that it is not going to be an issue is naïve."

Laura Woodmansee, author of the book Sex in Space, writes: "We need more research into conception and foetal development in animals, especially primates, before we can feel comfortable enough to conceive human space babies.

"Nasa is drastically cutting back its biology programs to make more money available for Moon missions, so the money just isn't available."

A Nasa spokesman said: "We don't study sexuality in space."

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