Space babies. Whether we like it or not, the reality of babies conceived “off-Earth” is probably coming, perhaps faster than we think. But with earthlings sometimes unable to decide what nationality a baby born on a plane should be, is the human race ready for babies conceived and perhaps even born extra-terrestrially?
Space.com has picked up a think piece from The Conversation by Professor David Cullen, a Bioanalytical Technology expert at Cranfield University in England. Cullen argues that companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are woefully underprepared for one of the major ways humans like to mark life-affirming experiences (like being one of the first tourists in space for example). Sex.
Forget about the “mile high club” (the glamorous name for those who have “done it” on a plane, presumably squashed inside a less-than-optimal plane bathroom in most instances). The new frontier when it comes to sexual intercourse, says Cullen, is the “Kármán line club” (the name for the 100 km-high boundary between Earth and the rest of the cosmos).
Within 10 years
Though astronauts have been living in space together for some time, they are professionals with codes of conduct to follow (though only human after all). But space tourists are not necessarily bound by the same rules. As space tourism moves apace towards longer trips on larger vessels like Elon Musk’s Starship with the potential for private cabins and all the romantic connotations attendant on a loop around the moon, it’s hardly a leap of the imagination to understand why Cullen says, “in-space sex will probably happen within the next ten years.”
With some space tourism trips in the pipeline that could last weeks, it’s possible that both conception and the early stages of pregnancy could happen aboard. Nobody knows what the outcome of a conception in space could be, or whether it is safe.
While the subject may seem titillating, the consequences could be deadly serious. Mouse embryos developed in space had developmental defects, DNA damage and epigenetic abnormalities caused mainly by radiation, according to a study published in National Science Review, September 2020. In addition, weightlessness can cause muscle and bone wastage. And there are other risks such ectopic pregnancy and contraception failure in space.
Cullen raises the spectre of sexual assault too, asking what would happen if someone were trapped aboard with an assailant? He concludes that the industry is not taking the risk of the rapidly changing space tourism industry seriously enough, neither reputationally nor in terms of future litigation.
He urges the protagonists in the industry come together alongside “other relevant parties” to create a strategic response to the risk. One solution Cullen puts forward is a form of pre-spaceflight counselling with all space tourists informed about the risks of human conception in space. They could then sign “legal waivers absolving the space tourism operators of liability if human conception was still to occur.”