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Space Science

Making Babies In Space May Not Be Easy 262

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the just-try-harder dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Studies of reproduction in space have previously been carried out with sea urchins, fish, amphibians and birds, but Brandon Keim writes in Wired that Japanese biologists have discovered that although mammalian fertilization may take place normally in space, as mouse embryos develop in microgravity their cells have trouble dividing and maturing. The researchers artificially fertilized mouse eggs with sperm that had been stored inside a three-dimensional clinostat, a machine that mimics weightlessness by rotating objects in such a way that the effects of gravity are spread in every direction. Some embryos were ultimately implanted in female mice and survived to a healthy birth, but at lower numbers than a regular-gravity control group. Part of the difference could be the result of performing tricky procedures on sensitive cells, but the researchers suspect they also reflect the effect of a low-gravity environment on cellular processes that evolved for Earth-specific physics. '"These results suggest for the first time that fertilization can occur normally under G environment in a mammal, but normal preimplantation embryo development might require 1G," concludes the report. "Sustaining life beyond Earth either on space stations or on other planets will require a clear understanding of how the space environment affects key phases of mammalian reproduction."'"
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Making Babies In Space May Not Be Easy

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  • by Goldberg's Pants (139800) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:43PM (#29270147) Journal

    Zero gravity probably makes the actual copulation bit kinda tricky too.

  • Folks at NASA have been running experiments in space for decades....where can I find results of all those experiments? Or was it money down the drain?

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:44PM (#29270151) Homepage

    ... but I'm willing to try!

  • There have been all too many jokes about this topic. It is good to see some serious thought and discussion about it.

    Since "artificial gravity" is easily created with rotation, conception and pregnancy would have to be within a rotating chamber at least until the embryo develops far enough to tolerate zero-G without adverse effects.

    • by ZosX (517789)

      Humans cannot withstand long term micro-gravity. Period. After about a year in space you cannot walk when you land on earth. Our equilibrium depends on gravity too. If we are going to live in space we are going to have to figure out how to create gravity on whatever structure we decide to inhabit. I really doubt we would mutate fast enough to take advantage of weightlessness to survive.

      • by fractoid (1076465) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:20AM (#29271013) Homepage

        Humans cannot withstand long term micro-gravity. Period.

        There's your problem. You're not pregnant until you STOP having periods.

      • by Ephemeriis (315124) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @07:19AM (#29272261)

        After about a year in space you cannot walk when you land on earth.

        This isn't necessarily a problem. Sure, if you want to walk around Earth then you're going to be in a bit of a fix... But what if you plan on spending the rest of your days in space? What if it's a one-way trip?

        If we are going to live in space we are going to have to figure out how to create gravity on whatever structure we decide to inhabit.

        I thought we'd already figured this bit out? All you have to do is spin the structure.

        I really doubt we would mutate fast enough to take advantage of weightlessness to survive.

        We don't need to.

        When's the last time you saw somebody sitting out in a snowstorm waiting to mutate and grow an insulating fur coat? Around here we just but on a coat. We're human beings, we have brains, we can make and use tools.

        That's the whole point of experiments like this one. We're not going to wait around for environmental forces to craft us into better organisms... We're going to identify the problems and fix them, just like we have for thousands of years. That's what we do.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      The reason given for not having artificial gravity by rotating the ISS and other platforms is that the extra strain it puts on the structure puts it in danger of being shaken apart.

      I can't see how they intend to get to Mars and back without it though, because even with regular exercise there is still muscle degradation in space.

    • It is good to see some serious thought and discussion about it.

      It would be nice to see some serious data first. The article is based on rotating the cells on the Earth using the stupid assertion that this is somehow the same as no gravity. This is exactly the same as saying that shaking something vigorously is the same as leaving it alone: in both cases the net acceleration is zero. If you try that with a mixture of oil and water the outcome will hardly be the same will it? So why should we expect it to be the same for dividing cells?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:45PM (#29270155)
    a) sex in space: easy
    b) consequences of sex in space: non-existant

    I am pleased.
  • Logic fail. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thantik (1207112) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:46PM (#29270159)
    Randomly changing the directions of gravity != no gravity. Logic fail.

    If I put an egg into a blender, I'm pretty sure it'd have a hard time forming a chicken too.

    • by RuBLed (995686) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:52PM (#29270195)

      If I put an egg into a blender, I'm pretty sure it'd have a hard time forming a chicken too.

      Why?

    • .. on your part (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kestasjk (933987) *
      You are saying having a G-force spread in all directions is harmful in a way that zero-G wouldn't be. That makes sense for chicken-eggs in gently rotating glass blenders, but not for the embryonic cells within gently rotating chicken-eggs:

      Imagine you're at the center of a giant plastic ball full of water. You have to tell whether or not you're in zero-G.
      If the ball was sitting on the surface of the earth you might sink or float to the top, and you'd know right away you're not in zero-G.
      Now imagine the
      • by TheLink (130905)
        But your imaginary "ball" scenario doesn't help show why it should work at all.

        You experience weightlessness/zero G when you fall without any resistance. If you are in a giant plastic ball full of water and that ball falls, you will definitely still feel like you are falling. Your inner ears will still tell you that you are falling.

        If you are in a giant plastic ball full of water and that ball rotates, you may feel like puking after a few spins.

        So there will be a noticeable difference for your given scenari
        • by kestasjk (933987) *
          You're right;unfortunately for the analogy our internal "I'm falling" detectors work based on something similar to the uranium-pellet-dropping loophole I mentioned.
          In a cell though the molecules don't have finely tuned internal instruments to detect and react to freefall, just like they don't have uranium pellets.

          Besides that there are also other problems with the analogy like how some parts of our body can be heavier than others, and water provides little resistance to things as huge as ourselves, so w
  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:58PM (#29270233) Homepage Journal

    So don't do that.

    Using acceleration to counteract undesirable effects of microgravity appears to be a universally ignored solution. It's like people are so amazed by how awesome zero-g is that they can't accept that working against it might be the best option.

    problem: humans lose bone mass in zero-g
    brain dead solution: we need to change humans with drugs! oh, and we'll make them exercise more too.
    problem: embryos don't develop normally in zero-g
    brain dead solution: we need to study embryonic development more, and hey, maybe we can find some drugs to fix it!
    problem: transferring cryogenic propellant in zero-g is hard
    brain dead solution: we need to learn more about fluid dynamics in zero-g!

    Back in the Gemini days they actually bothered to join a pair of spacecraft together and spin them up. The effect was about 1000th of a g, but it was a successful mission. Everyone presumed that NASA would continue this research after Apollo, with longer tethers and slower rotation, a 1g environment could be created. That didn't happen. Instead, the fixed module concept took over and "studying the effects of zero-g" became the mantra. No matter, the Japanese space program proposed a module that would allow the study of incremental gravity on mammals, everything from low gravity to three times earth gravity, or the astronauts could sleep in it. That was scrubbed.

    Meanwhile, private industry is solving the problem of propellant transfer [ulalaunch.com].

    • by Jared555 (874152)

      What about low gravity environments (a base on the moon, mars, etc.), how are you going to counter the effects of that?

      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        Perhaps first we should find any evidence that we need to.. and soft landing pregnant mice on the Moon sounds a lot more sensible way to get that evidence.

    • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @01:47AM (#29270861) Journal

      Well, one advantage to using drugs is, in theory, if we have issues on the Moon or Mars, we merely have to adjust the dosage. It'll be tough to build a 1G chamber on the Moon. Also, the research into this problem has helped people with osteoporosis here on Earth.

      That said, I tend to agree with you. Astronauts spend two-and-a-half hours per day exercising so that they don't collapse when they get back to Earth. At this risk of sounding like a cruel taskmaster, that's time that could be spent doing experiments and the other things that our tax dollars are paying for.

      The worst part is that there doesn't even appear to be any research going on in this area. How much gravity is necessary? 0.5G? 0.3G? 0.1G? Could they work in 0.3G and sleep in 0G? Could they work in 0G and sleep in 0.3G? This could affect the design of long-duration spacecraft.

      While the research into drugs is a good thing and helps us down here on Earth, to me it is not necessarily a good solution because you have to pack enough drugs to get them to Mars, enough drugs for them while on Mars, and enough drugs to get them back to Earth.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fractoid (1076465)

        It'll be tough to build a 1G chamber on the Moon.

        It'll be a damn sight easier than building a 0.16G chamber on Earth. Unless you have a source of Cavorite that you're not telling us about?

    • by kestasjk (933987) * on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @01:50AM (#29270885) Homepage

      It's like people are so amazed by how awesome zero-g is that they can't accept that working against it might be the best option.

      That's probably what influences the designers of spacecraft.. the awesomeness of zero-g...

      Either that or because systems involving artificial gravity are too costly to justify themselves, and the "brain dead" solutions are actually smart solutions which save money/make missions possible.
      Perhaps a spaceflight engineer would respond "problem: no gravity in orbit, we're not used to this. brain dead solution: create artificial gravity! price/practicality is no object if it means we have no new problems to solve!"

      Maybe at some point there will be a zero-g problem which really is easier to solve with centrifuges than with anything else, and you can bet when that point comes centrifuges will be chosen.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jeti (105266)

        Tethering a capsule to the burned out upper stage of the rocket and spinning it up is neither hard nor expensive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fractoid (1076465)

      No matter, the Japanese space program proposed a module that would allow the study of incremental gravity on mammals, everything from low gravity to three times earth gravity, or the astronauts could sleep in it. That was scrubbed.

      Why (not) on Earth would you want to simulate >1g in space? Anything below 1g, sure, but for greater you could just use a centrifuge on Earth where it doesn't take 1000kg of propellant to get every kilogram of payload to your test apparatus.

    • Using acceleration to counteract undesirable effects of microgravity appears to be a universally ignored solution.

      It's not ignored - it's turned out to be devilishly difficult to arrange.
       
       

      Back in the Gemini days they actually bothered to join a pair of spacecraft together and spin them up. The effect was about 1000th of a g, but it was a successful mission. Everyone presumed that NASA would continue this research after Apollo, with longer tethers and slower rotation, a 1g environment could be created.

      Everyone who? Because everyone I know is familiar with the problems with those tethers bring with them.
       
      Its extraordinarily difficult to stop and start the rotation. Its difficult to avoid tension problems during payout, it's REALLY difficult to prevent snarls during retraction. It's extraordinarily incredibly difficult to make orbital corrections while tethered and spinning...
       
      Until someone comes up with some engineering solutions to test (and they are working on them and two tether deployment tests (both failures) have flown on the Shuttle), any experimentation is moot - kinda like sticking your finger into boiling water to see if it burns you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jmv (93421)

      Using acceleration to counteract undesirable effects of microgravity appears to be a universally ignored solution. It's like people are so amazed by how awesome zero-g is that they can't accept that working against it might be the best option.

      Even considered that it's not as easy as it sounds? One of the main problems (I'm sure there's more) is that unless your "vehicle" is huge, then making it spin causes both a "gravity gradient (gravity on your head will be smaller than on your feet) and strong Coriolis forces (people and objects cannot follow a straight line).

    • by DarkOx (621550)

      I am not suggesting that your point is without merit or that the best solution to long space deployments might not be to create artificial gravity as as you correctly point out it could kill a whole flock of birds with one stone but there are other considerations.

      Physicists still don't entirely understand the force of gravity. It might be that simulating the macro effects of it with acceleration does not solve some problems on the micro and smaller scales.

      Energy in space is generally at a premium, yes you

  • by DogDude (805747) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @12:26AM (#29270417) Homepage
    Astro-Glide!
  • Cancelled (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ianare (1132971) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @12:52AM (#29270567)

    These types of questions could be answered by comparing micro-gravity to artifial gravity. Unfortunately, the ISS module designed to do just that was cancelled [wikipedia.org]

  • Dear NASA,

    I don't believe you. Here's $20 on you being wrong. I will fly up into space and demonstrate for you.

    Do we have a bet?

    PS - To make sure there are no confounds, please send up hot female astronauts to eliminate alternate explanations on why the experiment failed.

    • PS - To make sure there are no confounds, please send up hot female astronauts to eliminate alternate explanations on why the experiment failed.

      Nice try, but there's a glaring omission: you yourself might be someone whose looks alone give reason for a Darwin award.. :-)

    • by dltaylor (7510)

      Typical female astronaut is healthy and fit (therefore sexually desirable), and high-achieving and intelligent. She would want you as a sexual partner WHY?

      • As we learned courtesy of the Lisa Nowak incident, there's a fair amount of hanky-panky already going on between the astronauts.

  • by IorDMUX (870522) <`mark.zimmerman3' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @01:05AM (#29270645) Homepage
    ...Larry Niven [wikipedia.org] predicted this years ago.

    In his Known Space universe, the true separation of space-based ("Belter") culture from Earth-based ("Flatlander") culture occurred when the Belters completed their massive 'terraforming' of the inside of an asteroid named Sanctuary as a shelter and home for pregnant Belter women. Rotating the asteroid up to 1-g, they eliminated their last unwanted ties to Earth as women no longer needed to return to the home planet for the period of gestation and birth.

    Though, if I remember correctly, Larry Niven's justification for the need was a bit different, as he reasoned that a human fetus brought to term in very low gravity would grow to a size that endangered the life of the mother... I think.
  • Humph, cell division...When I first saw the headline I thought it was going to be about leverage.
  • Hey, baby, I got yer three-dimensional clinostat sperm storage device right here.

  • G (universal gravitational constant) is everywhere, and no different on earth or in deep space. g (acceleration due to gravity at earths surface) is earth specific.
  • by EdZ (755139)
    If you heart is not weighed down by gravity... you may develop arrhythmia?
  • by michelcolman (1208008) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @05:42AM (#29271779)
    They carried out reproduction in space of sea urchins, fish, amphibians and birds, but no mice? If I were to study the effects of microgravity on pregnancy, I would put something similar to humans (at least a mammal) at the top of my list, instead of first trying a whole list of species that don't really resemble us. Why use centifuges to "simulate" zero G (?!) and not just send a few mice up to the ISS? OK, it might be difficult to get them to actually reproduce, maybe put them on a 1G centrifuge for the actual copulation bit and then let them float again.
  • by Gandalf_Greyhame (44144) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @06:25AM (#29271955) Journal

    Dear NASA

    I for one wish to volunteer for this dangerous experiment to determine whether copulation is possible in a zero-g environment and whether a viable embryo can be formed.

    Qualifications:
    I have extensive experience with the ZERO sex protocol, so therefore am a perfect candidate for the upgraded ZERO-G sexual encounter.

    Thank you for your time

    P.S. Please send the mother of the first person to post a smart-arsed reply as one of the female candidates on the mission.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cashman73 (855518)
      Dear Gandalf Greyhame,

      Thank you for your interest in our Copulation in Space Program! After reviewing your qualifications, we have determined that you unfortunately do not qualify. At this time, we are only seeking experienced candidates for the mission, and seeing as how you have ZERO experience with sexual reproduction, we are unable to process your application. We will keep your application on file and, should an appropriate opportunity arise, we'll contact you in your mother's basement at that time.

  • This is no more a simulation of no gravity its simply telling you that mice don't do well in rolling barrel.
  • I long for the day that gravity is controlled by a switch, like the lights of a room...

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