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NASA Space

NASA Tackles Ethics of Deep-Space Exploration 456

Posted by kdawson
from the triage-a-long-way-from-home dept.
TheTony writes "With long-term projects like manned Mars exploration on the horizon, NASA has begun discussing previously taboo subjects. Ethical and practical questions involving illness, death, genetic profiling, and astronaut relations and behavior in space need to be addressed, as NASA begins to consider new policies with these extended missions in mind." From the article: "One topic that is evidently too hot to handle: How do you cope with sexual desire among healthy young men and women during a mission years long?"
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NASA Tackles Ethics of Deep-Space Exploration

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  • Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jackhererUK (992339) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @05:39AM (#18954193)
    I would have thought that the best way to cope with sexual desire among healthy young men and women during a mission years long would be for them to have sex with each other ;-)
  • No sex please... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pubjames (468013) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @05:40AM (#18954199)
    How do you cope with sexual desire among healthy young men and women during a mission years long?

    Put something in their tea. I believe they used bromide to suppress the sexual urges of soldiers during the first world war.

    But really, is this that big a problem? I believe it's not difficult to chemically suppress sexual urges.
  • Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Centurix (249778) <centurixNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @05:48AM (#18954249) Homepage
    Just let them fuck each other stupid. Christ, how hard is that? At least it'll pass the time until they get to Pluto or wherever the hell they're going.
  • Couples? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HateBreeder (656491) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @05:50AM (#18954265)
    Why not just send married couples?

    Seems simple when you think about it...
  • Re:Couples? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pubjames (468013) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @05:57AM (#18954307)
    Why not just send married couples?

    Do you think any marriage could survive the couple being together 24 hours a day in an enclosed space for several years?
  • Re:Couples? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by peragrin (659227) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @05:58AM (#18954321)
    It also partially solves, the jealousy problem.

    The problem isn't sex in space, but relationships in space. nasa hasn't figured out that part yet, how much you want to bet they screw it up?
  • A tricky subject. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by niktemadur (793971) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @06:35AM (#18954531)
    How do you tackle the sex in our space program issue in a society with so many hangups and hypocrisies about it?

    Think about it, you're cooped up in a limited space with several roommates, an extremely stressful environment, even though there is an individual and collective sense of higher purpose in a manned space mission. But I still think there needs to be...um...release, not just physical (masturbation), but emotional (intercourse). Physical contact is a crucial part of a healthy body and mind.

    My solution would probably never be accepted, particularly after the driving from Texas to Florida in diapers fiasco, but here goes:
    After extensive psychological screening, accept the super balanced and respectful individuals who are comfortable with a couple-swapping scenario, a collective zero G free love kinda thing. Open minded individuals are way more relaxed than uptight ones, so that would be a plus when you're in a capsule for months if not years. But you probably couldn't tell the US public about it.

    Of course, it's likely they'll contemplate going the opposite way and giving the astronauts some sort of medication that suppresses the libido, which in my opinion would be inhumane, not to mention unnecessary.

    But then again, like I said, the US is a prudish society. Do we really want prudes to lead the way for humanity?

    Death in space. That's gonna be nasty. They'll likely never allow jettisoning the body into space, as it's the body of a hero that deserves the full honors. Remember, the US makes an extra effort to pull the bodies of KIA soldiers from combat zones.
    A friend of mine is an astrophysicist and participated in the great neutrino hunt a couple of decades ago in a mine shaft in Alaska during the winter. One of the colleagues died, but they were shut in until weather allowed for a helicopter pickup, so they ended up storing the colleague in the meat freezer. My friend still has occasional nightmares about it, almost twenty years on.

    Illness. I can think of nothing more horrifying that being a woman two months out into space, examining myself in the shower and finding a lump in my breast. So antioxidants, vitamin supplements, etc, will have to be an essential part of the rigorous diet, probably organic (no McDonald's for you mister/missus) for a couple of years before the launch. How about a daily glass of red wine and lots of garlic, too?

    If NASA tackles the health problem with the same fervor that they tackled the issues surrounding the Moon program, something much better than Tang or Velcro will eventually trickle down to the general public: great advancements in preventive medicine. And who knows what else.

    Damn, these issues are fascinating.
  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by utnapistim (931738) <dan...barbus@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @06:44AM (#18954589) Homepage

    What about space pregnancy?

    Pregnancy should be a definite "NO" - I think. That is not only due to lack of data (it is difficult to estimate the problems in evolution of an embryo in 0G), but for the actual birth, and what comes after it.

    Considering that getting _privacy_ is still an issue, having a sterile environment for a birth sounds prohibitive, as does raising a newly born in space (at the moment). You have to think about special food, diapers (or something similar), a baby crying at all hours and breaking the awake/rest pattern of the crew, radiation effect on a newborn and probably two dozen other problems I cannot think about.

    Pregnancy in space should be at least a few decades in the future, to have some decent estimates for a healthy baby/crew/mission success.

    That means that -at the moment - any decision taken regarding sex on a space mission should take into account some good way(s) of preventing any pregnancy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @06:44AM (#18954591)
    would the vast majority of the readership not know the obvious answer to this question. Guys need to bust a nut every now and then. It helps them relax and allows them to maintain focus on their work. Why is so much angst wrapped up in a natural pressure-release mechanism? It's a fact of life, so deal with it people. If we'd all stop pretending that this wasn't so, then we'd be alot better off.
  • by Misagon (1135) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @06:56AM (#18954679)
    [i](women rarely have a problem being around men all the time - it's men that have the problem with those urges)[/i]

    That is sexist, generalizing, b.s, if you ask me.
  • by BitterAndDrunk (799378) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @07:02AM (#18954723) Homepage Journal
    His parents had sex on a mission to mars. Of course, they weren't married and that caused all sorts of problems.
  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the_womble (580291) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @07:14AM (#18954831) Homepage Journal

    I would have thought that the best way to cope with sexual desire among healthy young men and women during a mission years long would be for them to have sex with each other ;-)
    Alternatively you can send people who are used to not having sex: advertise on Slashdot.
  • Ethics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PMuse (320639) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @07:38AM (#18955023)
    Suppose you have work at your career for years to become one of the best in your field. Suppose an opportunity arises to work on a three-year project that will not only be the pinnacle of your career, not only make you famous, but will also be of real historical significance.

    All you have to do to be selected is to agree to have sex with whomever else your employer selects, whether you like them or not.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @07:39AM (#18955045)

    Two, only send people who do not cling to the outdated notion of monogamy and who are also bi-sexual (or at least bi-curious).

    I think what you're looking for is hippies, not poly people. ;) Well, jokes aside, the fact that someone's poly doesn't mean that they'll have sex (or, at least, be willing to have sex) with just about anyone. I'm poly myself, but I'm pretty picky (in fact, I'm actually single right now), and I've never met any poly person who's not. The idea that poly people will have sex with anyone is just a stereotype, comparable to the idea that just because someone's gay, he'll lust over every man he sees.

    Of course, having a spaceship crew where casual sex is possible and enjoyed by all crew members would still be good, but you'd have to select people based on how well they match in that regard, too; you couldn't just take a bunch of people, stick them in a spaceship and expect them to get along sexually just because they're poly.

    (N.B. - I'm posting anonymously just because I'm not sure how accepted being poly is on Slashdot, and I neither want to get flamed nor being accused of being an attention or karma whore.)

  • by PhxBlue (562201) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @07:58AM (#18955265) Homepage Journal

    "One topic that is evidently too hot to handle: How do you cope with sexual desire among healthy young men and women during a mission years long?"

    Three words: Pay-per-view. NASA will never again have to worry about funding.

  • by Morgaine (4316) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @08:02AM (#18955309)
    Our cultural history has so often placed taboos on sex that we're not able to think clearly about this issue, it seems.

    Sex is a primary human function and drive, and to brush it under the carpet on an extended space mission would be the height of irresponsibility. Even worse would be to let cultural dogmatists decide on what should be done about sex on the basis of their preconceived smalltown agendas. This is a medical matter, and needs to be handled on a medical basis, professionally.

    The human body has many natural needs and functions which, if not addressed, make it go downhill, and eventually become impaired and disfunctional. We don't make healthy eating optional for astronauts, nor do we make physical exercise optional for our long-term space dwellers, because to do so would have a negative effect on their health. The same needs to apply to sex, for exactly the same reasons.

    Astronauts on long trips need to have their sexual indicators and requirements quantified and addressed as fully as any other medical parameters, and as professionally. This is absolutely not an area for cultural mindlock and petty embarrassment. The success of a mission and the health and lives of people in an integrated system are at stake, and to ignore a central function of the human body would be the height of folly, and disaster in the making if it is suppressed.

    To make it perfectly clear and not beat around the bush, all members of a long-voyage space team need to be aware and fully supportive of the need for regular sexual activity among the crew, just as they are about physical exercise, and in most cases this implies participation for the sake of team health. If their earth-side taboos are so strong that they are not entirely comfortable with this, then they are the wrong material for extended missions.

    The practical arrangements for this are a somewhat separate issue, and there are many alternative possibilities. But the key matter here is acceptance of the principle that sex must be handled as a natural medical function of a healthy astronaut, because without this we are destined for some very bad pathological events ahead.

    Yes, I know that this suggestion will cause many a giggle and wink. But this is an important matter, and we need to think beyond the shackles of our ancient cultural silliness.
  • Re:Easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pxtl (151020) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @08:06AM (#18955359) Homepage
    Probably growing up under zero-G would cause bizarre and potentially lethal deformities. Astronauts already have to work out incessently when in space to try and slow the onset of osteoparosis that afflicts them.

    And plus, my biggest concern with a baby wouldn't be the noise, but the fluids. Babies are veritable fountains of goo that you wouldn't want aerosolled into the breathing air.
  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by *weasel (174362) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @08:14AM (#18955485)
    do it on the exercise wheel. duh.
    artificial gravity brings the mechanical problems down to 'sex in a sauna'.
    (trust me, people aren't avoiding that just because it's hotter and sweatier)

    As for the social dynamics... don't we have data from BIO2?
    And years of McMurdo and Amundsen/Scott winter-over crews?
    They're pretty darn isolated for good chunks of time.

  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bacon Bits (926911) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @08:21AM (#18955587)
    Yes, but then you get problems like:
    How do you cope with living in a space vessel the size of a closet with an ex and her new boyfriend?

    It's not the logistics of intercourse that are the real problem. It's the social consequences of living with humans in intimate relationships. You can separate sex from intimacy, but intimacy is part of the reason that masturbation isn't enough.

    There are also problems such as:
    How do we handle astronauts with differing sex drives?
    What happens if *no* astronauts are willing to engage in intercourse with a given astronaut?
    What about astronauts with spouses on Earth? Are they more or less desirable for space travel?
  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @08:43AM (#18955907) Homepage Journal
    Nah....just have NASA develop the perfect 'space' pill for the women!!

    Hell, they invented Tang....why not something that will now allow the astronauts to have all the 'tang' they want while up in space, with no pregnancies??

    Man..the best stuff gets invented with the space program, doesn't it?

  • Re:Easy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by norman619 (947520) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @09:06AM (#18956221)
    Ummm... I fail to see this as a problem. One word. Masturbation... The crew doesn't have to have sex with each other. Give them the correct equipment and they can take the issue firmly in hand and deal with it.
  • by pile0nades (962661) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @09:28AM (#18956503)
    "All jocks ever think about is sports. All we ever think about is sex."
  • by EgoWumpus (638704) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @10:05AM (#18957055)

    Alright, I agree that human - and in particular American - culture is a little screwed up about sex. People have sex. It is a natural part of life. It should not be swept under the rug. Astronauts - at least at this stage - should have birth control, and we need to not get all hysterical about that idea. A baby conceived in space is unlikely to ever be able to come to earth, meaning it will probably die of suffocation. Etc.

    And I agree with the point that sexual desires should be monitored consistently and professionally, but I do not think mandatory sex is a good idea. It is probable that in some relationships this would work, but in most relationships it's going to be giving one partner or the other a degree of power that is unhealthy. Suppose, for instance, one of a partner pair doesn't want to have sex, but has to for the sake of their duty to NASA and nation? It is not hard to see how this could quickly send that person down a road to lessened self-esteem and depression; it happens all the time on earth. In space where you have little to no other human contact it could be devastating.

    "What, I went to college, got a higher degree, trained real hard and became an astronaut so I could become someone else's sextoy?"

    It is a bad idea. And there are alternatives; such as masturbation. NASA should at the very least be providing for materials that the astronauts they hire for their qualifications need in order to satisfy sexual urges. Pornography, dildos, what have you. Those astronauts also need to be well-trained on how to cope ultra responsibly with an adult relationship (and, for that matter, I think this has the potential of being another great technology brought to us by the space race), so that they can choose to get intimate with each other, or chose not to - but they have the choice. And not just the first time, but every time such conjugation might occur.

    But, yes, it's an incredibly important matter; one that we tend to ignore because our culture is bound up in the idea that sex is bad. Let's abolish that soon, eh?

  • by gillbates (106458) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @10:23AM (#18957343) Homepage Journal

    There has arisen this notion that sexual activity is a requirement for health. As /. can attest, nothing is further from the truth. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that most reading this post don't have regular sexual activity, and are healthy nonetheless. While I'm saying this half-joking, there is an element of truth that needs to be discussed.

    Why is it that we can train a young child to control their bowel movements, yet expecting an adult to control their sexuality is somehow considered oppressive? If a child can learn to defer bowel movement until the appropriate time and place, why can't an adult defer their sexuality until an appropriate time and place? Or is it too much to expect an adult to have full control over their own body?

    People can learn self-control. The fact that self-control of one's own sexuality is considered somehow repressive is indicative of a lax and selfish attitude with respect to others. Sex deeply affects people emotionally, spiritually, and (surprise!) physically. To reduce it to a mere matter of personal health is ignorant of the fact that it is much more than a mere physical release. It is not merely as simple as relieving a physical urge - if it was, NASA would just tell the astronauts to masturbate and leave it at that.

    If we can require an astronaut go through extensive training so that they can cope with the effects of zero gravity for months at a time, why wouldn't we likewise train them to maintain control over their sexual urges under the same circumstances?

    Really, I don't have much faith in an astronaut to do his or her job under duress if they can't even learn to control their own body.

  • Amundsen/Scott (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kadin2048 (468275) <[slashdot.kadin] [at] [xoxy.net]> on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @11:12AM (#18958059) Homepage Journal
    I think the difference is in the number of people. According to WP, in 2005 there were almost 90 people in the winter-over crew at Amundsen/Scott. That changes the dynamic a whole lot from, say, 3 or 5 people, like you'd probably be talking about on a Mars mission. (There are probably some very remote towns/villages around the world with less than 90 people in them, effectively isolated most of the time...I suspect if you looked up in Canada you'd find some.)

    I think the difference is that when you get get close to 100 people or so, you can really have a community, while when you just have a handful, there's a good chance of ending up with individuals feeling isolated and embittered from the rest of the group. Plus, you avoid some of the really bad male/female issues if you increase the numbers to that size and make the proportions about even; 40 men and 40 women gives each person a whole lot more possibilities -- which means competition isn't as dangerously cutthroat -- than in smaller crews. (Your worst possible scenario would be a small overall crew with more men than women; that's pretty much asking for a lot of "industrial accidents" to start happening.)

    Overall though, if you want to look for what situations there's the most data on, I suspect it's probably all-male crews. I suspect that the original Navy crews at Amundsen/Scott, when it was smaller, were all-male, and there are a lot of very remote listening stations and stuff up in Alaska that are presumably crewed by the military with men. (And submarines, although they aren't in isolation, usually, for as long as any space mission would be.)

    Maybe the solution is just to go with either all-male or all-female crews, hope they're all heterosexual, and tell them to solve their own needs on their own time. Yeah, they'll probably be sexually frustrated but they probably won't kill each other, either.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @11:24AM (#18958257)
    >> There has arisen this notion that sexual activity is a requirement for health. As /. can attest ...

    And it IS a requirement for health. Sexual repression and denial of relief has pretty major negative consequences, and really you should dig a little deeper than Slashdot for clinical studies on the subject, of which there is no shortage. A healthy adult is always in part a sexual animal, although certainly there is very wide diversity in how this is satisfied. You seem to forget that there is no shortage of relief for the archetypal Slashdotter. Try that from the vicinity of Mars.

    >> People can learn self-control.

    Of course they can. And for short trips they do exactly that. The topic here though is sex and long-duration space missions, which are a completely different kettle of fish.

    As missions get longer, "self-control" actually turns into forced repression, even when you are doing the forcing yourself. People do have the mental strength to endure even extreme physical signals on occasion, including those which indicate that their bodies are undergoing harm, but this is very far from business as usual. In general, both physical pain and mental distress mean that something is not satisfactory about the current environment, and you don't fix the problem through "self-control".

    >> If we can require an astronaut go through extensive training so that they can cope with the effects of zero gravity for months at a time, why wouldn't we likewise train them to maintain control over their sexual urges under the same circumstances?

    You've just answered your own question. The degenerative effects (and others) of zero gravity over prolonged periods are so bad that spacecraft are being designed to provide artificial gravity through rotation. And likewise, the negative effects of forced sexual repression in healthy adult astronauts on long trips need to be addressed as well, and just as systematically.
  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shambalagoon (714768) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @11:47AM (#18958635) Homepage
    The solution to that is easy: sex robots. They never say no, they're always available, and they'll always tell you it was the best they ever had.
  • by zombie_striptease (966467) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @12:14PM (#18959123)
    I haven't seen anyone here advocating that people deny themselves any and all sexual release (unless I'm misinterpreting your parent), just suggestions that partnered sex and all the entanglements it involves can be avoided without great health consequence for at least a few years. If you have studies that prove otherwise, I would be fascinated to see them.
  • Re:Easy (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Gregb05 (754217) <bakergo@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @12:22PM (#18959247) Journal
    Who would they have an affair with? The other married couple within 5 feet?
    Would they fight over leaving the space-toilet seat up?

    TFA talks about stricter, more controversial psychological testing over multiple month periods for the astronauts, even for NASA. A lot of the catalysts that break up relationships seem to disappear in space; No new lovers, no change of job, no friends to come over, play cards, watch football and piss off your wife for you.

    Seems to me that if they modify the beds (longer adjustable elastic straps), sound-proof the walls a bit, stock (and mandate) contraceptives, the couples would be set.
  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by evilviper (135110) on Wednesday May 02, 2007 @11:19PM (#18967855) Journal
    You're absolutely right that the social problems are being vastly overblown. It seems most people can't understand any situation other than the one they're currently in, and invent all sorts of problems that don't really exist.

    It has always astonished me to hear of couples that "couldn't make the marriage work" because one person may regularly have to be away from home. Meanwhile, before planes and trains, people would routinely be separated for years at a time, and not uncommonly for much of their lives. I can't help but wonder at what point society suddenly switched from years apart being acceptable, to a few occasional weeks apart being intolerable...

    The same goes for isolation. Today we have all kinds of communications tech that was unimaginable when pioneers were traveling in small groups for months across harsh wilderness. For some reason, when it becomes "space" instead of "the middle of nowhere" people think there's something more dramatic and simply different about it.

    The same goes for hardship. Why people, over a century ago would regularly have to handle several of their children and commonly spouses dying, but today can't be asked to deal with their spouse having lost a limb, is beyond me.

    What is the trigger, in our modern society, all across the world, that causes our DNA to flip a switch, and turn us all from responsible adults, into the spoiled, unstable, irrational little children of today, which we expect everyone to be?

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