Archived by Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D., Health and Physical Education Department, Fashion Institute of Technology of the State University of New York (FIT-SUNY), and SexQuest/The Sex Institute, NYC, for the benefit of students and other researchers interested in the human aspects of the space life sciences. Return to first page for background information on these pages.
Sex in SpaceNASA has not studied the subject of human reproduction in space. Animal and plant reproduction have been examined in several experiments.
Spaceflight creates a unique opportunity to research problems in cellular, plant and animal biology which may be affected by gravity. If a long-term goal is the colonization of space, it will be necessary to learn about reproduction in microgravity.
Developmental biology encompasses all aspects of the lifespan of an organism, from fertilization through embryogenesis, implantation (in mammals) or egg production, the differentiation and formation of specialized organs, and the changes which occur after birth, through maturation, aging and death. In space, developmental biologists seek to answer this basic question: Can organisms undergo normal development in the radiation and gravitation environment of space, or are there developmental phases and life processes that are altered so much that repetetive life cycles are not possible?
In the relative absence of data, we can only conjecture that there may be problems in organism development, especially in the neurovestibular system, the musculoskeletal system, and in the long-term effects of exposure to radiation. Because of the lack of gravitational inputs (or the altered inputs caused by a centrifuge-style space station), the neurovestibular system may fail to develop "properly" in space; this has implications for space-born humans making the trip to Earth. Similarly, the lower forces exerted on the musculoskeletal system may cause changes in its development, causing similar problems for space colonists. The effects of long-term exposure of developing organisms to space radiation, which is different in character to the forms of radiation which we can generate in terrestrial laboratories, is unknown. Another factor which may affect reproduction is stress. The physical and psychological stress caused by spaceflight may have some effects on reproductive ability. Many experiments in space biology have been conducted, and dozens of papers have been published on the subject, but many of the key questions have not been answered.
Studies looking at the entire lifespan of animals in microgravity, from conception to maturation to old age, are the most enlightening, but the short duration of Space Shuttle missions precludes these studies in most animals, including humans, who have longer gestation periods and lifespans than is practical to research in present-day spacecraft. Research is proceeding on "model organisms" (plants, animals and unicellular organisms which have some properties similar to humans) which can shed light on the question: Can development from fertilization through the formation of viable gametes in the next generation occur in the space environment?
Ethical, social and political factors also affect developmental biology, especially in humans. While it might be possible to conceive, give birth to, and rear a human child on a space station, doing so without considerable prior animal experiments would be unacceptable.
R. J. Levin. (1989). Effects of space travel on sexuality and the human reproductive system. Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 42, 378-382. R.J.Levin@sheffield.ac.uk
You can go:
Last modified: Jan 22, 1996
Author: Ken Jenks
Responsible NASA Official: Chris Culbert
R. J. Noonan. (1998). A Philosophical Inquiry into the Role of Sexology in
Space Life Sciences Research and Human Factors
Considerations for Extended Spaceflight.
For information, see Dr. Ray Noonan’s Dissertation Information Pages:
[Abstract] [Table of Contents] [Preface] [AsMA 2000 Presentation Abstract]
And Dr. Ray Noonan’s Outer Space chapter in IES4: Volume 4 of the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality (IES4), including 17 new countries and places, Robert T. Francoeur, Ph.D., Editor, and Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D., Associate Editor, published in May 2001 by Continuum International Publishing Group: Includes my chapter on “Outer Space,” which highlights cross-cultural sexuality issues that will have an impact on the human future in space, based partly on my dissertation. For the table of contents or more information, see the IES4 Web site: http://www.SexQuest.com/IES4/, including supplemental chapters available only on the Web. Order from amazon.com!
Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D.
Health and Physical Education Department
Fashion Institute of Technology of the
State University of New York (FIT-SUNY);
SexQuest/The Sex Institute, NYC
P.O. Box 20166, New York, NY 10014
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