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Mars NASA Space Science

Infertility Could Impede Human Space Colonization 360

Posted by timothy
from the happy-valentine's-day dept.
intellitech writes "The prospect of long-term space travel has led scientists to consider, increasingly seriously, the following conundrum: if travelling to a new home might take thousands of years, would humans be able to successfully procreate along the way? The early indications from NASA are not encouraging. Space, it seems, is simply not a good place to have sex."
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Infertility Could Impede Human Space Colonization

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  • by Shimmer (3036) <brianberns@gmail.com> on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:30AM (#35197084) Homepage Journal

    Well put. But this article isn't just saying that space is dangerous, it's saying that reproduction is statistically impossible in space without better shielding. That's useful information, not scare-mongering.

  • space sex (Score:5, Informative)

    by Odinlake (1057938) on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:33AM (#35197094)

    Space, it seems, is simply not a good place to have sex.

    The quoted text doesn't really give any reason not to have sex in space - though several for why it is a bad idea to try and have a baby.

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:33AM (#35197098) Homepage Journal

    As soon as astronauts enter the zero gravity environment they start losing bone mass. Exercise doesn't help - based on spiral CT (so-called QCT) studies which measure bone loss in trabecular bone as well as cortical bone, the problem of bone loss is twice as bad as was once suspected.. it appears the trabecular bone you lose in spaceflight doesn't come back. That is, It may be permanently lost. As for reproduction, experiments with mice done by Russia were inconclusive (as so much of Russian space medicine is) but indicated that the embryo has trouble embedding. So where the article says "try not to get pregnant", there's most likely no chance of that anyway.

    That's zero-g, what about partial gravity? The only data we have is from Apollo and no-one stayed on the Moon for long enough - or knew what to look for - to get conclusive results. When people ask "could humans colonize the Moon or other planets?" the answer has to be that we don't know. We'll probably not know conclusively until humans go there with the intention of staying, and making a new generation.

    Now stop and think about that for a minute. If your idea of people-in-space is NASA astronauts then I hope you find this suggestion as distasteful as I do. In our modern world governments should not be sending anyone anywhere with orders to reproduce - it just seems a little totalitarian doesn't it? Maybe China will do it. Personally, I'd rather see free men and women go out to the frontier and populate it.

  • by symbolset (646467) * on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:33AM (#35197100) Journal

    No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.

    Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.

    This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.

    So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward--and so will space.

    William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.

    - JFK, at Rice University, 7/12/1962 [hbci.com]

  • by superdana (1211758) on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:56AM (#35197194)
    No, RTFA. The type of radiation found in space sterilizes female fetuses.
  • Re:Au Contraire (Score:5, Informative)

    by Aeternitas827 (1256210) on Monday February 14, 2011 @04:08AM (#35197246)
    It sounds like they would be able to conceive, and be able to carry to term, but any girls born would have a significant chance of being born sterile; I think they indicated this of boys born as well (or the adult males becoming sterile, not sure, but either circumstance is not a good situation). Myself, I think the article intends this as somewhat of a best-case (or, a not-worst-case) scenario; there are certainly worse outcomes that could come of such a pregnancy.
  • Re:Don't dismiss FTL (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 14, 2011 @04:54AM (#35197408)
    Quantum entanglement looks FTL, but it isn't FTL. The different particles appear to change in an instant, but you can't really check it before you get classical information about which polarization (or other parameter) to use; if you don't, the reading will be random and then you've lost your chance. As with all things FTL, what the universe enforces is STL of updates. You can seemingly change things outside your light cone, but you can't update anything (turn the seeming into real) until it is inside your light cone.

    Now, if you could clone quantum states, or have nonlinear quantum mechanics, then you could have FTL, but neither of these seem very likely. If you had nonlinear quantum mechanics, you could also solve NP-complete problems in polytime.
  • by ardle (523599) on Monday February 14, 2011 @05:24AM (#35197496)

    Hey how do I put in a link with with just "Westermarck Effect" highlighted as the link?

    Write full HTML for the link, e.g. The Westermarck effect [wikipedia.org] is done by typing "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westermarck_effect#Westermarck_effect">The Westermarck effect</a>.
    You can do quite a lot in this way, e.g. bullet points, italics. If shashcode doesn't like what you've done' it'll strip it.
    Try hitting the "Quote Parent" button to get a lump of HTML to play with ;-)

  • Re:Magnets? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Monday February 14, 2011 @07:42AM (#35197972)

    There's two types of ionising radiation to worry about: ions and photons.

    Ions are hugely damaging but poorly penetrating. A helium nucleus won't get past a piece of paper, for example, while a proton is stopped by a modest thickness of aluminium. They're charged, so a magnetic field will divert them. If the Earth's magnetic field wasn't there, they wouldn't get past the atmosphere anyway, but they would start to erode it. It'd be similar on a spacecraft. You don't need a magnetic field to protect the occupants, but you'd be exposing the ship's hull and outboard systems to (perhaps non-trivial) radiation damage.

    Photons are not as damaging but are much more penetrating. Your old-fashioned X-ray is the classic demonstration. Our atmosphere protects us from those by absorption. You can use a kilometer of gas, or a foot of lead. Either way that means carrying a lot of mass which can be a problem for a space mission. A poster above observed that colonists would be carrying resources like water that they could use as a shield though.

  • by realityimpaired (1668397) on Monday February 14, 2011 @08:02AM (#35198060)

    Here I was, planning on moderating, but alrighty then.... In response to your concern about eggs...

    A quick Google search to refresh my memory found that we already know how to turn stem cells into eggs/sperm [stanford.edu]. We have already used that technology to restore fertility in mice. [guardian.co.uk] And we know how to make stem cells from skin [washingtonpost.com], which, because it regenerates, has an essentially limitless supply, as long as the subject is still alive.

    You're right, we still don't have a viable artificial womb. You're also right about the sterilization of the females and males. But see the articles I linked above. If the technology pans out, then it doesn't really matter that the children born in space would be sterile, because we would be able to produce eggs and sperm from their skin, and use those to artificially impregnate them.

    We still need to work on an artificial womb, but your concerns B and C have already been addressed by science. :)

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