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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 symbolset (646467) * on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:17AM (#35197028) Journal

    It's cold out there, and dark. Lots of miles between gas stations. It's full of risks and danger. We haven't got what it takes to do this any more. You go.

    We'll wait here by the fire where it's warm. You go: to Mars, the Asteroids, the stars. If you make it back tell us your traveller's tales of petroleum seas, of fields of diamonds, of the strangeness men have become Out There. Write if you find life.

    One day the Rock will come, or the Flare, or some other thing. In our final moments it will comfort us that Out There are Men, continuing our journey.

    • 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.

      • by SharpFang (651121) on Monday February 14, 2011 @04:40AM (#35197366) Homepage Journal
        There's still one simple option: frozen embryos. They could be sent along with the crew, but due to small space required for storage, and minimal requirements, they could be shielded way better than the crew, who requires a lot of room. Infertility doesn't mean inability to give birth to a child. The crew gets to a remote planet, builds a good shelter, women get the embryos (may be just perfectly well their own children, just conceived before start) and give birth to a new generation, preparing for another launch and another "leap". This still limits the range of a single "leap" - between launch and landing - but removes the limitation of "human lifespan distance from Earth".
      • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday February 14, 2011 @07:48AM (#35198004) Journal

        Actually, no - if you RTFA, it IS fear mongering.
        It's not saying that cosmic rays make reproduction difficult or impossible without better shielding...the title of the article is "Why infertility will stop humans colonising space". ...you'd think by now people might be a little leery of pronouncing the impossibility of something as far as humanity is concerned. Using the same source logic behind their title, one might have stated unequivocally in 1700 "Why humans will never fly", because, barring technological advance, we couldn't do it then.

        Making such a categorical statement is idiotic. Or an exercise in sensationalist headline-writing.

        • by Teancum (67324)

          The sad thing is there has yet been any sort of long-term study of mammalian reproduction in space of any kind. A whole lot of theories and speculation, but absolutely nothing in terms of actual results or hard data to suggest that it may be a problem.

          The speculation about radiation is a legitimate issue, and reproduction on the part of people who have either gone through radiation therapy or have been involved with nuclear "incidents" (Chernobyl and Hiroshima). The effects upon human reproduction certain

      • Better shielding is little problem. The problem is, people think to small. Want to launch a colony? Fine, we start gathering trash from among the asteroids, play with it, and see how we can make a concrete like substance with it. Shouldn't be terribly hard. Next, we create a hollow sphere. The shell needs to be quite thick - let's say a mile. The interior needs to be plenty roomy, to house a viable gene pool - let's say 50,000 people total. Did I say roomy? Make it about 100 times whatever you had
    • 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 bronney (638318)

        Thank you. What a great speech.

      • by sjwt (161428) on Monday February 14, 2011 @04:04AM (#35197228)

        My thoughts on how far we have come is this, my Grandfather was beaten by his dad for suggesting that man would go to the moon after reading some books, and those books where of course thrown out.

        • by clickety6 (141178)
          My thoughts on how far we have come is this, my Grandfather was beaten by his dad for suggesting that man would go to the moon after reading some books, and those books where of course thrown out. And to show how far we have yet to go, my mate was beaten by his Grandfather for suggesting that man did go to the moon...
          • by lul_wat (1623489) on Monday February 14, 2011 @05:43AM (#35197568)
            I beat my son for suggesting that after NASA winds down the shuttle we won't go back into space. Next time he crosses me it better be from orbit.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by JockTroll (996521)
              Amen to that. A nerdy kid tried to convince me the Moon landings were faked. After patiently listening to about 3 seconds of his not-knowledge of physics I grabbed him by his scrawny neck and bashed his head against a locker door. Immediately I hit him in the solar plexus with my knee then punched his glasses into his eyes with a swinging punch. Then I threw him heads down into an unflushed toilet and kept him under until he passed out. I considered pissing on him, but it would have been a waste of urine.
        • Your great-grandfather sounds like a dick.

      • by grantek (979387) on Monday February 14, 2011 @05:37AM (#35197542)

        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.

        Damn creationists...

      • by Third Position (1725934) on Monday February 14, 2011 @09:56AM (#35198604)

        A lovely speech. But it's sobering to remember that when it was given, putting a man on the moon was 7 years in the future. Now it's nearly 40 years in the past. At least as far as human space travel is concerned, that breathtaking pace has come to a grinding halt.

    • Very poetic, this made my day.
    • Hopefully there's Women Out There Too, or the Journey Will Be Short.
  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:20AM (#35197038)

    Space is a great place to have sex. It may not be a great place to reproduce, but that is a different matter.

    • Precisely.

      In any case, this is something that various space agencies might do well to consider...while I'm sure it's possible to have sex in space, and (for the men) to climax, and thus be able to inseminate a woman, it seems it would be more difficult to a) get to that point, and b) keep the 'guys' in a place where they can do their work. The other area of concern that warrants examination is the interpersonal relationships of any pairs that would exist in space, and any potential fallout if things go wr
    • Home on LaGrange (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dadoo (899435) on Monday February 14, 2011 @05:34AM (#35197530) Journal

      Reminds me of something I read a *long* time ago:

      Oh, give me a locus
      Where the gravitons focus
      Where the three body problem is solved
      Where microwaves play, down at 3 degrees K
      And the cold virus never evolved.

      Home, home on LaGrange,
      Where the space debris always collects
      We possess, so it seems
      Two of man's greatest dreams
      Solar power and zero-gee sex.

    • by JamesP (688957)

      At least when they get there they'll have finished Kama Sutra 2.0 (or maybe 3.0 for high frame-dragging environments)

    • by rossdee (243626)

      Cleaning up afterward may not be so great

  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:23AM (#35197050)

    The article presupposes that we'll be limited to our present thin-walled spacecraft propelled by chemical rockets. There are other options: we don't even need new technology per se. Something like Project Orion [wikipedia.org] would permit the construction of a craft heavy enough to have effective shielding.

    I'm reminded of this famous quip from Napoleon:

    "You would make a ship sail against the winds and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? Excuse me, I have no time to listen to such nonsense."

    • Don't dismiss FTL (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mangu (126918) on Monday February 14, 2011 @04:38AM (#35197358)

      There's an embarrassing set of experiments [wikipedia.org] that simply won't go away that imply physics isn't as local as relativity would suggest.

      Before someone tells me that "absolute simultaneity does not exist", let me point out that there's nothing in our current knowledge of physics against the existence of *one* specially privileged inertial frame having absolute simultaneity, provided that all other inertial frames are relative.

      At least for me, it's easier to believe in one inertial frame that allows FTL transportation or communication than to believe in something that makes the universe suddenly grow by 78 orders of magnitude [wikipedia.org].

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        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
      • by QuoteMstr (55051)

        There's an embarrassing set of experiments that simply won't go away that imply physics isn't as local as relativity would suggest.

        Superdeterminism seems to be the most parsimonous way out of Bell's theorem. It's a depressing result, in a way, but it's the one that requires the least "spooky action at a distance" in the universe. Modern physics just dashes all our dreams.

    • by jgtg32a (1173373)
      Fooling around on an Orion space craft could be interesting, judging from the acceleration profile.

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/xeni/272469365/ [flickr.com]
  • Laughable (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:25AM (#35197060) Homepage

    We can't seem to get our own affairs in order here on planet Earth. What makes you think we won't have infighting and mutiny in a space ship? Within a thousand year trek to the final destination, there might not be anyone left alive by that time!

    We're the most innovative of all live as we know it. But, in one form or another we still fling poo. Some things never change regardless of where events take place.

    • by QuoteMstr (55051)

      That's why space colonization is important. If we can't hold it together here on earth, having settlers elsewhere will ensure that humanity continues to exist somewhere, and that the cultural contributions of everyone who's lived won't be forgotten.

    • Re:Laughable (Score:5, Interesting)

      by whereiswaldo (459052) on Monday February 14, 2011 @04:27AM (#35197304) Journal

      I'd suggest breaking the problem into two parts:

      1) That human kind may someday soon disappear.

      2) That all life on Earth will eventually disappear.

      Getting humans out of our solar system will take ages. Colonize the moon first. Create factories so more can be done in space (less requirements for launching from Earth).

      But first, get _life_ off of this planet. Send some organisms, plants, rats, stuff that is hardy off to Titan or Mars and get something going. That way even if Earth is destroyed, at least there is life somewhere else that can evolve or at least live.

      Tired, random thoughts... hope you get the gist of it.

      • interesting idea, adding some vegetation/microbes to mars might make it a more friendly place (not sure about the atmospheric conditions, but some oxygen producing plants cant be a bad thing can they?)

        I wonder if we have anything here on earth that would survive (or even thrive) in martian conditions, but i guess the lack of liquid water is one hell of a hurdle

        • There is certainly stuff that could survive on Mars(tardigrades, various spores, probably some lichens and assorted extremophiles), the trick would be finding something that retains metabolic activity under those conditions. Cold and dry is usually code for "shrivel up and wait". The fact that certain organisms can wait for a century or more and then rehydrate just fine is impressive; but not too useful if you want metabolic activity out of them...
  • by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2&gdargaud,net> on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:27AM (#35197070) Homepage
    ...I'm going to be the first one here to volunteer for a job at Nasa to test that theory about sex in space. With lots of trials if necessary.
  • by poliscipirate (1636723) on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:28AM (#35197072)

    Women would be unable to become pregnant? On the contrary, it sounds like space is a GREAT place to have sex.

    • 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.
  • It's "if you have crappy shielding, you'll likely kill the fetus".

    The solution is simple. Better shielding in such transit vehicles, as well as good shielding once at the destination.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by superdana (1211758)
      No, RTFA. The type of radiation found in space sterilizes female fetuses.
      • by Supurcell (834022)
        So? The solution would be the same, build better shielding.
      • by Chas (5144)

        Wow. No coffee yet eh?

        The issue is that insufficient shielding allows for greater amounts of radiation to penetrate the cabin areas of said transit vehicle.

        Ergo, the issue is actually insufficient shielding.

        At that point, the solution presents itself quite nicely. More/better shielding.

  • 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 bronney (638318)

      I find the idea of bone-loss fascinating because treating bone-loss negatively it assuming the bone would hold up to Earth's gravity, which it won't. But the colonist aren't coming back to Earth. Whether this loss affect the production of blood, etc I don't know. But on a spaceship for 1000 year, we might evolve into something else that "can" live on non-earth-like planets. Isn't that cool?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Supurcell (834022)
        Any generation of humans that was born and raised in a zero-g environment would not be suited to live on any sort of planet that had gravity. Besides their weakened bones, they wouldn't know how to walk, let alone have the musculature for it. They would be completely reliant on living in an extremely complicated space vessel, perhaps they would be better at it than terrestrial humanoid, but they would never know a forest, or a sunrise, or lake, or even a sky scraper.
    • 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?

      Uh, what? Astronauts volunteer willingly. If there are no astronauts who want to go, I'm sure NASA would cancel the mission, but astronauts are usually more eager to push the envelope than NASA is.

    • by u17 (1730558)
      Arguably, we already have a solution to the bone loss/zero-G pregnancy problem: use a centrifuge to generate acceleration. By the time we send out humans to spend so much time in space, we will probably have incorporated them into space vessel designs. On the other hand, we still don't have a good solution for space radiation shielding: good shielding takes up large amounts of mass.
    • by SharpFang (651121) on Monday February 14, 2011 @05:00AM (#35197426) Homepage Journal
      Goddamnit, why do you people keep dragging the old carcass that has been buried long ago? The same lesson once again: Every deep-space ship in any self-respecting sci-fi movie seems to have a rotating part. Not because it looks cool. But because centripetal force is a very accurate and perfectly sufficient for all practical purposes simulation of earth gravity. 50m radius from axis of rotation, 2.25s per rotation, and you have a neat 1g. And due to 1st Newton's Law and no air friction, it needs only to be started once and requires no power to keep turning. Now go and bury that stinky thing where it belongs.
      • by dkf (304284)

        Every deep-space ship in any self-respecting sci-fi movie seems to have a rotating part. Not because it looks cool. But because centripetal force is a very accurate and perfectly sufficient for all practical purposes simulation of earth gravity. 50m radius from axis of rotation, 2.25s per rotation, and you have a neat 1g. And due to 1st Newton's Law and no air friction, it needs only to be started once and requires no power to keep turning.

        What we don't know — because we have no data at all — is how little gravity (or equivalent acceleration) is required to maintain a safe level of bone mass. The earth-bound bed-rest experiments don't really cut it because the body remains under gravity the whole time, even if from an unusual direction. Could we survive long-term on lunar levels of gravity? Or if not that, martian levels? If so, it makes building such centrifuges much simpler (less force, less material, less mass, less to launch,

        • Actually there's a treatment which as far as I remember was developed for earthbound people with bone mass problems which may also work in low G or freefall.
          It boils down to a vibrating surface you're strapped to or sit on and the vibrating stresses your bones a little to encourage bone growth.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 14, 2011 @06:12AM (#35197648)

        The coriolis effect on the inner ear would make any astronauts in such a centrifuge permanently nauseous and disoriented. You need a _much_ large diameter to get a good enough approximation of linear gravity..

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's zero-g, what about partial gravity?

      I'd rather take the partial gravity of 1G than the FULL gravity of a singularity. But that's just my personal preference, YMMV.

      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.

      Nah, that's not true- you're vastly oversimplifying things. Aerobic exercise doesn't help much, and we already know that from studying people on Earth who have low bone density problems. The critical factor is stress on the bones- stress builds density. In space, no gravity means no stress, so it's not directly the lack of gravity which is the issue, but the lack of stress.
      Simulatin

  • I hereby volunteer for the randomized double-blind study.
  • Wouldn't the simple (yet uncomfortable solution) be to create a space chastity belt with extra shielding to protect the gametes during travel. You only need to protect a much smaller area.

    And when it comes to failed fetuses, isn't that a self solving problem? Damaged sperm and eggs probably won't make it. But the healthier ones will have a better chance of fertilizing. And so what if you have a larger percentage of miscarriages? That is simply nature sorting life out. All you need are 2-3 healthy babi

    • by SharpFang (651121)
      There's a much safer and better shielded place for gametes during travel: a small LN2 tub surrounded by 10cm of lead. It's not like we can't fertilize people using frozen gametes. And it's not like they can't land and build a solid, well-shielded base on a remote planet before starting bearing babies.
      • Interesting idea. In that case, perhaps we should send an all lesbian female crew to increase total child bearing potential.

  • The problem appears to be that growing up or procreating in zero-gravity causes problems. Solution: Spin the ship to create artificial gravity.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      The problem with interstellar travel is that you don't get to bring much of the environment that you need to survive. Unless, of course, you take a whole planet. That is, naturally, the best way to engage in such travel...

  • Unshielded ships may make female fetuses infertile by killing their eggs. This is no big deal if we're colonizing, say, Mars, as it's only a 6 month trip. If we had a generation ship going to Alpha Centauri this may be a problem, but that doesn't tie into Hawking's assertion that we need to colonize space. This is because colonizing another solar system before colonizing other bodies in our own solar system would be asinine. By the time we've colonized every planet and moon we can set foot on, we'll have th

  • From the article it sounds like space is a fine place to have sex, just not to be pregnant.
  • by LordNacho (1909280) on Monday February 14, 2011 @04:37AM (#35197356)

    Interesting medical issue with radiation, but there are other issues with reproduction in space:

    1) How do you get people to WANT to shag? The spaceship ain't gonna be big, and there's something called the Westermarck Effect. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westermarck_effect#Westermarck_effect [wikipedia.org] (Hey how do I put in a link with with just "Westermarck Effect" highlighted as the link?)

    2) What's a fair way to divide up the shagging opportunities? On Earth, we seem fine with letting unattractive people go unpaired, but on a spaceship, presumably everyone is needed for something. It might be hard to get motivated if you're not getting any.

    • 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 ;-)

  • Summary says ""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". But TFA is taking about trips to Mars, not "thousands of years".

    Also most of the radiation that is the problem is from the sun. Once a starship is underway, that will be pretty low. And it will have lots of shielding, probably megatonnes of water will b

  • From TFA: "Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space."

    Replace planet Earth with Germany and space with Russia, and you have almost a verbatim translation of Hitler's justification for operation Barbarossa.

    If I could I would remind the speaker than in the long run, there is no survival, no matter how many worlds we infest.

    • by mikael_j (106439)

      If I could I would remind the speaker than in the long run, there is no survival, no matter how many worlds we infest.

      Oh really? Are you entirely sure of that?

      And of course, a sci-fi reference [wikipedia.org]...

    • Yep, colonizing other, more than likely uninhibited bodies of rock in space is the moral, legal, social, and political equivalent of invading a neighboring country. That makes so much sense, I can't think of a reason that nobody else has thought of it before you.

      Oh, I know why, perhaps it's because that is one of the single most asinine equivalencies I have ever heard drawn in the history of stupid commentary. Don't try to equate space travel with Nazi-like ambitions of world domination. That's just fuck
  • This is really StarTreck futurism: considering huge improvements in spacefaring techs but with humans beings still stagnating in present biological and cultural levels ... IVF and ectogenesis [wikipedia.org] would be efficient by this time. Even better, extreme longevity [sens.org] would be also granted since it is a precursor to the techs allowing bone loss regeneration and resistance to increased ionizing radiations damage. Space is for transhumans & robots ... Not the likes of captain Kirk guys.
  • Space, it seems, is simply not a good place to have sex.

    It's not the "having sex" that is the bad idea. It's "trying to have offspring" that may be problematic.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Monday February 14, 2011 @05:55AM (#35197598) Journal

    If the voyage will be centuries long (or longer!) duration as is what we can expect for interstellar travels in the forseeable future, send embryos. They can be reliably frozen for long periods of time and, being very small, could be well shielded. Of course this presumes some sort of artificial womb (perhaps a placenta grown from thawed out stem cells?) and then artificial "parenting" system to guide, protect and educate the young until adulthood (now THAT would be a real test of applied psychology!).

    I seem to remember coming across this idea in a later edition of one of Arthur C. Clarke's books, "The Songs of Distant Earth". SPOILER ALERT. The earth based civilization, having determined that the sun would explode in 1000 years starts sending many of these "seeding" probes to suitable star systems in the hopes that a few would survive. Despite the long odds against them (particularly because the human infants who are raised by machines grow up severely maladjusted) some survive and eventually develop flourishing colonies. Centuries later, shortly before the sun's demise the earth civilization discovers a way to harness the zero-point energy(?) and is able to send huge ships that can travel at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light (even so, the crew and colonists are still put into suspended animation). One of these ships suffers a breakdown near a previously established colony and puts in for repairs.

  • I did a little research into this for a Mega Joule Plasma discharge reaction vessel shielding in case of various particles or fields were generated. Didn't want to go sterile or alter my brain. Here is a few links. I had a PDF from 1960 that was like 600 pages detailing various ideas for the future of space travel and the huge amounts of Tesla required. Like if the magnetic field were to be able to collapse then the space ship would melt and implode. Can't seem to find the link right now.

    http://engineering.

    • by tyrione (134248)
      I wish I had mod points to give to you. We already know Positron Engines are the only way for Deep Space Travel and thus speeds near light speed; and with the recent work at WSU Plasma Lab on Positrons its also clear that development of utilizing the energy from that Positron Drive can also be used to sustain a proper shield against cosmic radiation. Why in the hell people think we're going to be dealing with the current Space Shuttle design in the near future is absurd.
  • No-one can hear her scream.

  • No sex in space? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Monday February 14, 2011 @06:38AM (#35197758)

    In fairness, TFA says only space isn't necessarily the greatest place to make babies. Inhabitants of the United States may be surprised to learn that some people have determined sex has a rather significant recreational component.

  • Earth's shield from cosmic radiation is its magnet field. What strength of magnetic field would you need to generate to protect a long-distance spacecraft? I'm aware that it's probably so strong it would induce cancer and cause mechanical and electrical failures on the spacecraft itself, but I'm just curious...

    Does anyone know?

    HAL.

    • 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.

  • Really, having - and raising - children in space would require a whole additional set of resources above and beyond what we would carry for a regular mission. Diapers, (infant / child) food, (infant / child) clothing, etc; all that are items that adults in space would not have a use for. On top of that are all the requirements for human development as we recognize it today - education. stimulation, physical activity, etc. As it is we pay a high cost to lift each pound of whatever into space, do we really
  • Greetings people of earth. We, the peoples of the Peptoid cluster connected to your 'inter net', deduced your simplistic language structure and deciphered your premier news stream - Slashdot. We have just learned that you cannot procreate in space. There is much rejoicing here.
  • Seriously - '62-mile high' club sounds forced. A decade ago, I ran an informal poll at a launch vehicle company I worked for. The choices were:

    1. 1. Three-mile High Club
    2. 2. Major Tom Club
    3. 3. Barbarella Club
    4. 4. Zap Brannigan Club
    5. 5. Zero-Gee Club
    6. 6. Apogee Club
    7. 7. Re-entry Club

    I'll come back and post the top three winners later. I will say that I was surprised by the winner.

  • You can freeze embryos and implant along the way. Except if space is bad for reproduction then its probably also bad for incubation and in utero development.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo. - Andy Finkel, computer guy

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