Ever considered the idea of sex in space? The 100-mile high club? You know, that thing James Bond does in Moonraker. A friend of mine was musing about this on Twitter today and it got me thinking.
Astronauts spend a long time in an enclosed space with a limited number of people. They are obviously very focussed on their various experiments and mission functions, but surely they’ve gotten ‘distracted’ once in a while up there? Whether it’s the International Space Station (ISS), a possible years-long Mars mission or a future multi-generational spaceship – sex seems to inevitably crop up. Humans are programmed to seek out intimacy. We are social animals.
So far as I can see, no one has ever had sex in space. There is a hoax report from 2007 but not much else out there. The physical act of sex in space ought to be possible but complicated. Newton’s Third Law (that every action has an equal and opposite reaction) means that sex could be pretty bumpy in zero gravity. Without gravity to keep them stable, two people could end up spinning around violently or flying off in unpredictable directions. An alternative might be some kind of tethered sleeping bag – or a 2suit? In a very light craft, it may even be the case that you’d have to the protect the ship’s balance from sex! (If this ship’s a-rocking… )
Assuming that we solve this issue by the time we embark on any future, mass exodus to the stars, I think the interesting case to look at is a potential long-term, manned Mars mission.
Imagine the scenario: a small group of intrepid, physically fit explorers board a small ship and close the door for 6 months. Their perilous journey will bring them closer together in already close-quarters. They exhaust all small talk very quickly and the repetitive nature of their task will cause their minds to wander. One day a coolant leak causes the temperature to spike and everything is getting hot and sweaty. The clothes come off and… well you get the idea.
What does sex do to a small, enclosed group like that? How does jealousy play out in such a limited space, or even a normally harmless crush? Communication with Earth is delayed, and limited, so there isn’t really anyone else to talk to. NASA has commented on such issues in the past, but generally taken the line that there is a lot of other stuff to think about when it comes to the health of the crew. Good to see sexual repression has made it to the Space Age.
Perhaps one solution would be to crew the ship with totally asexual people. Or we could go for a single-sex, entirely heterosexual crew. I know, let’s just send the crew from Star Trek: The Next Generation! (Not Riker, obviously.)
Recently the Mars500 experiment simulated a 520-day Mars mission with a crew of 6. They emerged last year after their 18-month stint on a simulated spacecraft without much ill-effect. They were all men: one Chinese, one Italian, one Frenchman and three Russians. THe sitcom rights have likely already been sold.
There is an argument to be made for an all-female crew too. Women are more resistant to certain medical problems that may affect people living in low gravity.
There is also an entirely different concern with a mixed-gender crew: pregnancy, conception and contraception in space. Biology has evolved under gravity and we don’t understand the effects of zero-gravity enough to predict anything as complex as the gestation of a human being. There is research to suggest that cosmic rays may make long-term astronauts infertile – both by lowering sperm counts and sterilising embryos. Aside from that, can you rely on normal contraception in space? Can you afford the additional weight of thousands of contraceptive pills and lord knows how many condoms? Getting things into space is expensive.
But I will leave you with good news: although no one has had sex in space, it has been done in zero gravity. For the porno movie ‘The Uranus Experiment: Part Two’ a scene was filmed on board an aeroplane in freefall, achieving zero-gravity (and maybe more) for 20 seconds. I’ll leave you to Google it. The filming of the scene was described as ‘messy’. I think we’ll leave it at that….
…almost. One final, final link. This ion blog post about sex scenes in space includes one real-life sex movie recorded in real space. Here you go [WARNING: some of the links of this site are truly NSFW].