(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists are increasingly wondering what life will be like for the first human colony on Mars. But one important aspect remains taboo for research – Martian sex. How to deal with the new gravity? How will living conditions affect body functions? And will it be possible to conceive and give birth to a child? Mashable asks experts questions.
When Jane first met John, she already knew that they would spend the rest of their lives together – literally. The couple spent more than eight years in space before leaving Earth for good.
As members of the first human colony on Mars, Jane and John naturally reached out to each other. Both had lives ahead of them in isolation on a new planet. Over time, not only a strong psychological connection arose between them, but also a passionate desire. And they faced an obstacle for which no one prepared them: sex on the Red Planet.
Jane and John are, of course, fictional characters. However, if any of the existing projects for the colonization of Mars is successfully completed, their destinies may become reality in just ten years.
At first glance, this story may seem like the beginning of a wonderful extraterrestrial romance. However, there is a dark side to it: sex on Mars has not yet been studied, and it could potentially even become a threat to life.
Space sex: taboo for research
When it comes to sex in space, federal agencies go silent. NASA officials argue that no sexual experiments have yet been conducted, and the former astronauts are trying their best to evade an answer if they are asked questions on this topic. This can partly be explained by the fact that sex has never been studied in short-term space missions.
However, humans on Mars are our future. If NASA sends the first humans to Mars, the mission will include an extended space flight that could last two years. If a private company decides to establish a colony of people on Mars, it will most likely be a one-way trip without the ability to return to Earth.
In any case, the question of sex should be explored, especially when it comes to a mission involving astronauts of both sexes.
Meanwhile, federal agencies and private companies alike shy away from exploring the issue, much like the 1950s sitcom spouses who sleep in separate beds.
And that could be a huge problem for our future in space.
“There are basic human needs such as shelter, food and the desire to procreate, and if you ignore one of them, you slow down space exploration,” says Dr. Saralyn Mark, Women’s Health Specialist who works as a consultant for several agencies, including NASA.
The main question remains how our bodies will respond to the prolonged effects of gravity on Mars, which is 60% weaker than Earth.
The Mars Society, an organization inspired by the concept of Mars to Stay that emerged in the early 1990s, insists on the need to colonize Mars by sending crews one way only. Although there are divided opinions on when this will be possible, the Mars Society regularly conducts simulated missions at its Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. The station was specially created to simulate the habitat on Mars.
At this station, every two weeks, five to six people perform routine tasks, similar to those that would have to be performed daily by future members of the human colony on Mars in order to independently provide themselves with everything they need – to grow food, for example. Dr. Kris Lehnhardt, MDRS chief physician, believes procreation and women’s health should be prioritized if humans are to travel to Mars on a mission like this.
“If you remember history, then at some point any colony must become self-sufficient,” he says. “If people cannot have sexual intercourse with each other, they will not be able to establish a colony that will grow over time. That is, people on Mars will simply die out if they do not have the opportunity to reproduce.”
How do you do this on Mars?
MDRS experts have not yet conducted any experiments designed to investigate sex under gravity on Mars. However, Lehnhardt, who is also involved in human health in space travel at George Washington University, has some thoughts on what sex on Mars might be. In his assumptions, he is based on data on how the human body behaves in zero gravity, obtained during missions to the International Space Station.
We have all seen footage of astronauts floating in the air on the ISS, but on Mars everything will look a little different, since there is gravity there. If we talk exclusively about physical pleasure, then sex on Mars is unlikely to be anything different from sex on Earth, to which we are accustomed. You just have to adjust a little at first.
“You can most likely do everything that you do on Earth,” says Lehnhardt. “You just have to adjust to the physics of motion.”
Like the astronauts on the ISS, the settlers on Mars will not need to wear space suits inside the stations, since the atmosphere there will be no different from the atmosphere on Earth.
The hardest part of having sex in low gravity is finding the best way to maintain contact, as the bodies will constantly repel each other.
Lehnhardt argues that in space, people feel a little strange about the lack of “bottom”, adding that astronauts on the ISS sleep in special bags attached to the wall. “If we talk about positions in sex, then the main thing will be to achieve a position that would allow not to lose contact with each other. It is quite possible, although it will look a little awkward at first.”
On Mars, it will be easier to keep in touch with each other than in orbit, because there is already gravity there. “This is not the Moon, where you jump up and down, but the force of gravity there is much less than on Earth,” notes Lehnhardt.
Birth control on another planet
When it comes to sex on Mars, the problem of procreation becomes an even more important issue. If the goal is to actually find a planet that humans can live on, the issues of sex and pregnancy must be carefully studied.
“Many people think that these are issues we will have to deal with when we permanently settle on a new planet,” says Lehnhardt. “However, this aspect is of paramount importance. If we are talking about how to send a group of people to Mars and establish a colony there, we must resolve the issue of procreation.”
However, not all supporters of the colonization of Mars believe that pregnancy will be one of the main issues that will be faced by the first group of settlers on the Red Planet.
In January, Mashable reporters interviewed Norbert Kraft, head of medical services for Mars One, a private company that intends to send a group of colonists to Mars in 2023 who will be chosen by the public through a vote on national television. When asked how Mars One would prepare its astronauts for sex and possible pregnancy on Mars, Kraft replied that he did not see this as a particular problem, adding that their organization would try to “educate settlers about all the possible risks associated with sex in space”.
The ideal model for the development of the situation implies that the first few waves of settlers – Mars One will send a new group of 30 people every two years – will not produce offspring at all. As soon as the Mars One team on Earth has more information about the habitat on Mars, Kraft said, “perhaps they will send animals to this planet to observe the process of their reproduction.”
Kraft claims that the astronauts will be provided with a supply of contraceptives. However, the methods by which humans control fertility on Earth may be ineffective on Mars. So far, we know practically nothing about how the female body adapts to low gravity conditions, in particular how it will affect the level of hormones in the blood. That is why it will be quite difficult to develop a contraceptive before going to Mars that could effectively prevent pregnancy in women who have settled on this planet.
Some medical experts suggest placing an intrauterine device in women. However, the problem is that even with a non-hormonal IUD, there is an increased risk of displacement in low-gravity conditions and thus damaging the uterus.
“As for the intrauterine device, in this case, a foreign object appears in your body, while you go to live in a foreign environment for you. It will be extremely difficult to remove it in case of emergency, says Dr. Mark. “The best solution in this case is to try not to complicate the situation.”
In addition, there is another rather controversial solution to the issue of an unplanned pregnancy on Mars – the sterilization of women.
Advocates of Mars colonization suggest cutting out unnecessary organs such as the appendix and tonsils before the flight to avoid the need for dangerous emergency operations on the Red Planet. However, when it comes to removing the uterus, experts cannot agree.
“When you travel to a new world, the last thing you want to think about is having a baby before you can settle there,” says Dr. Mark. – However, what organs do we consider vital? Where are the borders that cannot be crossed? After the removal of the uterus, some women develop health problems. Therefore, I would not recommend doing this, unless you have serious evidence.”
The first Martian man
Perhaps talk of preventing pregnancy on Mars is too premature. We don’t even know yet if a woman can get pregnant in low gravity.
Before talking about pregnancy on Mars, you should start with your period. “On Earth, the cycle of a healthy woman is 28 days, and how will the female body adapt to the Martian lunar cycle? One day on Mars corresponds to 24.65 hours on Earth, ”says Mark. People will have to somehow adjust to the extra 40 minutes every day.
Another important issue is the effect of gravity on the skeletal system. In space, bone loss by astronauts averages 1% to 5% monthly. Changes in hormonal levels have a negative effect on bone health, and decreased levels of sex hormones have a negative effect on menstruation and, therefore, ovulation. Mark cites eating disorders as an example: Women with bulimia and anorexia experience bone loss and a decrease in sex hormone levels, which ultimately leads to the cessation of periods.
However, during short-term missions to the ISS, women in orbit did not experience significant cycle failures.
“In theory, if a woman has her period and ovulates, there is a chance she could conceive in space,” says Lehnhardt. – If you have the opportunity to have sex, it all depends on the mobility of the sperm. Will they be able to fertilize an egg? If this happens, will the egg be able to properly attach in the uterus, and will the embryo be able to develop normally?”
So far, we only have the results of a study in which rodent embryos were sent into space. When they were brought back to Earth’s gravity, the rodents were born perfectly normal. A study of the fertilization process in mice, conducted in 2009, showed that as a result of implantation under normal gravity, healthy mice were born, but under zero gravity, the level of embryo survival was lower.
Meanwhile, scientists have not yet been able to conduct a study that would allow observing mice or rats during the entire cycle of intrauterine development. According to Lehnhardt, this is primarily due to lack of funding and the lack of rules governing this kind of research.
“This issue is considered a low-priority research topic compared to other risks that astronauts face right now,” he says. “However, if we really want to populate several planets, we must now begin to study all aspects of our existence in space.”
Will Jane and John’s story have a happy ending? Nobody can guarantee you happiness on Mars, but one thing we know for sure: in the end, people will have sex on Mars.
“We are biological beings. We are essentially animals, adds Lehnhardt. – We are constantly fighting our sexual desire. And in most cases, biology wins.”
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