Sci-fi films such as Passengers and Prometheus have depicted sex in space like it’s as simple as down here on Earth.
But what would happen in real life if a couple conceived in low gravity?
According to Professor David Cullen, a professor of astrobiology at Cranfield University, there are ‘unanswered biological and legal questions’ surrounding sex in space that need to be ‘urgently addressed’.
Conception could lead to harmful effects of radiation on an embryo, which could lead to litigation against the organisation that’s hosted the flight, he warns.
Space tourists such as newlyweds may therefore have to sign legal documents that prohibit sex during their flight in case they conceive.
The expert says there’s ‘unanswered biological and legal questions’ about sex in space. Pictured, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in the 2016 film Passengers
Professor Cullen is the lead author of a new report that questions whether sex in space is being taken seriously by the emerging space tourism sector – led by the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
Why is sex in space a concern?
The main issue of sex in space would be the effect of radiation and low gravity on an embryo soon after conception.
The experts say knowledge of the effects of space environments on the early stages of human reproduction and the long-term consequence to human offspring ‘is in its infancy’.
Any damage to a foetus could lead to litigation against the space tourism firm hosting the flight – unless the couple have signed legal waivers.
‘It is unrealistic to assume that all space tourism participants will abstain from sexual activities while exposed to microgravity and increased levels of ionising radiation during spaceflight,’ the new report says.
‘This raises the possibility of uncontrolled human conception in space, which poses a significant risk to the emerging space tourism sector.
‘Our knowledge of the effects of these space environments on the early stages of human reproduction and the long-term consequence to human offspring is in its infancy.’
NASA has long avoided the question of sex between astronauts, having previously categorically insisted that ‘no humans have ever had sex in space’.
But the next 10 years will see exponential growth in what’s known as space tourism – everyday people paying thousands for trips into orbit for recreational purposes.
Professor Cullen and colleagues say the ‘expected motivations and behaviours of space tourists will differ from that of professional astronauts’.
In other words, while astronauts are trained to keep a lid on any sexual urges during long spells in space, the public may not be so restrained.
NASA has long avoided the question of sex between astronauts, having previously categorically insisted that ‘no humans have ever had sex in space’ (file photo)
The big three private space firms – SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic – have all rocketed civilians into space and back again in the past few years.
And as part of the ‘dearMoon’ mission later this year, eight civilians and a Japanese billionaire will orbit the moon for about seven days aboard a SpaceX vehicle.
Other smaller firms such as Halo Space based in Madrid and Space Perspective in Florida are working on building luxury capsules that will whisk paying customers into space on short trips.
Carried by giant space balloons, the capsules would take less than 10 guests into the stratosphere, 100,000 feet (19 miles) above Earth, for a trip that lasts about six hours.
Aside from the toilets, the capsules won’t have any dedicated private spaces for couples to nip off to in case they feel frisky.
But as designs for space trips get more and more adventurous luxurious, the dangers of conceiving in space get very real.
Professor Cullen and colleagues argue that it is unrealistic to assume all future space tourists will abstain from sexual activities, which will have serious dangers if precautions are not taken.
‘A consequence of this is that early stages of human reproduction – e.g. gametogenesis, fertilisation and zygote formation, blastocyst development, and implantation – may occur in the very near future during spaceflight and whilst exposed to space environments.’
Professor Cullen told MailOnline that the report focuses on the potential risks of human conception and the associated early stages of reproduction, rather than sexual intercourse in itself.
‘One of the possible mitigation approaches to reduce the chances of human conception occurring during spaceflight if sexual interaction were to happen is to use existing contraceptive methods,’ he said.
‘This then raises a further risk or question in that most approaches to contraception have not had their efficacy validated in space environments.
‘One of the recommendations of the report is to consider further the need to understand the efficacy of contraceptive approaches in space environments.’
Firms such as Halo Space are working on building luxury capsules carried by balloons that will whisk paying customers into space on short trips (pictured)
The authors make a series of recommendations for the industry in their paper, including organising meetings to debate and discuss ‘uncontrolled human conception in space tourism’.
‘Currently, the sector does not appear to be discussing this risk and context in an open forum or communicating any risk mitigation,’ the paper argues.
‘Given the breadth of actors and stakeholders that seem applicable, this means many relevant voices are not engaged in discussions and influencing outcomes.
‘The authors of this paper consider this to be an inappropriate situation that needs to be urgently addressed.’
The paper will be debated in a parallel session alongside the upcoming Space Tourism Conference 2023 on April 28 in Los Angeles.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa selects eight artists to join him on a flyby around the MOON on a SpaceX spaceship
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has revealed the eight artists that will join him on an ambitious civilian flyby around the moon on a SpaceX spaceship in 2023.
Among the male-heavy crew for the ‘dearMoon’ tourist flight is South Korean K-Pop star T.O.P., US Grammy nominated music producer Steve Aoki, Indian TV actor Dev Joshi and British photographer Rhiannon Adam.
Adam, originally from Ireland and based in Hackney in London, is the only woman in the team, but she’ll become the first openly queer woman to go to space.
Among the male-heavy crew for the ‘dearMoon’ tourist flight is South Korean K-Pop star TOP, Indian TV actor Dev Joshi and British photographer Rhiannon Adam
The civilian crew will orbit the moon aboard SpaceX’s Starship rocket for about seven days without landing on it before returning to Earth.
The dearMoon project has also revealed the specially-created spacesuits to be worn by the crew, designed in-house by SpaceX.