NASA Just Launched Human Sperm Into Space for a New Experiment

Friday, 06 April 2018 - 12:12PM
Space
Weird Science
Friday, 06 April 2018 - 12:12PM
NASA Just Launched Human Sperm Into Space for a New Experiment
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Image credit: YouTube

Poor NASA scientists.

You work your hardest on a brand new piece of scientific research, wait patiently for the scheduled launch date as your work gets sent to the International Space Stations, and then eagerly tell the world about your project.

Except, you have to wait a couple of days, because the rocket launched on April Fool's Day, and your prized research involves sending semen into space.

The jokes write themselves. In space, no-one can hear you... you get the idea.

 


The Micro-11 mission may sound like a laughing matter, having blasted off (poor choice of words?) from Earth on April 1, but this is actually an important avenue of research if humanity is to colonize the stars.


The experiment, which contains both human and bovine sperm samples, is intended to discover whether fertility is affected at all by time in space. Considering that a DNA experiment revealed that up to 7 percent of astronaut Scott Kelly's gene expression was permanently altered following an extended period of time spent in space, we can't make any assumptions about the long-term feasibility to conceiving children while in outer space.

Based on previous research that involved animal sperm, it seems that pint-sized swimmers can get a little sluggish while floating around in orbit.

 

According to NASA:

Opening quote
"Previous experiments with sea urchin and bull sperm suggest that activating movement happens more quickly in microgravity, while the steps leading up to fusion happen more slowly, or not at all. Delays or problems at this stage could prevent fertilization from happening in space."
Closing quote


This could potentially be very bad news for the possibility of a truly long-haul space flight. Human colonies could potentially not survive indefinitely in space, because the conception of new generations of spacers could be very hard difficult. This matter is also not helped by the fact that, due to blood flow, it's incredibly difficult for male astronauts to achieve and maintain erections.


This being the case, it sounds like the future of extended space missions will look a lot more like the squishy, immobile and emotionally isolated humans of WALL-E than, say, the virile, energetic colonists of Mass Effect Andromeda. Bone loss is the issue of the day, in more ways than one.

Even the possibility of Interstellar style colonization missions with fertilized human embryos in jars might not work out all that well - considering the way that cosmic radiation warps the genetic code of a fully grown human, there's no telling what it could do to a jelly bean proto-person in a test tube.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of results Micro-11 manages to return, and whether we'll be able to figure out a way for conceive and grow humans while traveling through space.

If not, the future of space colonization will be restricted to places that humans can get to within a single generation's lifespan, before colonists are forced to down tools, set up a makeshift hotel on a distant world, and propagate all at once for the fate of humanity.

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