Complicating Factors: Issues Relating to Romance and Reproduction During Space Missions

Kira Bacal, MD, PhD, MPH


January 02, 2009


Suggested Research Directions

Given the lack of definitive evidence, there are numerous opportunities for future research. First, studies could explore how to best minimize the impact of sexual activity on team performance and mission operations. Secondly, studies into procreation are still needed at virtually every stage from fertilization to successful reproduction by the next generation. These include studies on fertilization, implantation, embryogenesis, fetal development, pregnancy, childbirth, parental care, post-natal growth, and sexual maturation.

It is widely accepted that the space environment is teratogenic, but the extent of these teratogenic effects, as well as the development of countermeasures, remains largely unexplored. In particular, the potential synergistic effect of stressors on living systems must be studied. These range from the combined effects of radiation and microgravity to the interaction of hyperemesis gravidarum with space motion sickness.

In addition to the space environment's physical stressors (e.g. gravity, radiation, vibration, disrupted circadian rhythms, etc), there are also causes of significant psychosocial stress, such as danger, isolation, confinement, spartan conditions, limited social interactions, loss of communication, cultural conflicts, and separation from family and friends.[2] To this list, we must now add "sexual tension" and "reproductive concerns," because it is unrealistic to consider a long-term human presence in space without anticipating both issues.

Some research findings suggest that behavioral health is a major challenge to long-duration flight. Sexual relationships (and tensions) will provide additional stressors to the efficient functioning of crews. In addition to these psychosocial effects, there are also documented physiological issues. The space environment itself is teratogenic, and may have significant, deleterious effects on a developing fetus. In addition, there may be a synergistic, negative effect between some of these stressors.


Gravity's effect on mammalian gene expression may have significant ramifications on procreation, and exposure to microgravity at certain times and for certain durations may lead to long-term abnormalities in organ system development and function.

Data from animal models suggest that mating and reproduction in space may be difficult, which has implications not only for humans engaged in these activities, but also for the development of self-sustaining ecosystems with in situ agricultural production. This may be partly due to possible decreases in male fertility and sexual drive in space.

Significant changes in embryologic development have been noted in multiple animal models, including jellyfish, wasps, zebra fish, frogs, salamanders, quail, and rats. Furthermore, early studies suggest that interactions between rat mothers and pups are different in space, creating potential problems for post-natal pup development as well.

All of these findings will not only have impacts on medical system design and pre-flight training, but also on evacuation and contingency planning.




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