Video: No sex in space?

  1. Transcript of: No sex in space?

    OLBERMANN: Abstaining from sex in space is nothing new. Just ask the 14 billion-year-old Virgo . For that matter, any of the 335 astronauts NASA has sent into space, except for two of them. In our number one story, leading scientists agree that colonization of space is essential to the long-term survival of our species. Yesterday, a NASA space shuttle commander revealed that astronauts on his shuttle are prohibited from knocking anti-gravity boots. On April 5th , the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida . On board, three women and four men, led by Commander Allen Poindexter . Their mission is a 13-day tour at the International Space Station . Yesterday, more than two months after returning safely to Earth , the crew of Discovery was on a media tour in Tokyo when Poindexter was asked a hypothetical question about coitus among the stars. According to the " Agence France Press ," Poindexter was quite serious, responding, quote, "we are a group of professionals. We treat each other with respect. And we have a great working relationship. Personal relationships are not an issue. We don`t have them and we won`t." As far as an official policy regarding sex in space , NASA as an organization doesn`t appear to explicitly prohibit it. As we stipulated before, at some point reproduction in micro gravity is going to have to happen. Our future kind of depends on it. Luckily, our friends at the History Channel already took the trouble to explore the pitfalls of sex in space and how to work around them.

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One thing everyone does agree upon is that one or more of the mating partners needs to be restrained.

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you could have is some hand holds and perhaps leg holds, similar -- made out of bar kind of material, similar to the hand holds you have to assist you in the bathtub.

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any mechanism that would simulate constraints on motion, that would at all mimic gravity, would probably facilitate mating in space. It could be Velcro .

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And one of the parties could wrap legs around something and then perhaps foot holds similar to the kind of thing you put your feet in in water skis, to secure the bottom.

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For sex in space , I think you might want a seat belt.

    OLBERMANN: Well, we should perhaps be talking to Isabella Rossellini for a demonstration, but who gets to follow that? No, a scientist. Derrick Pitts , the chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia , who is probably regretting that choice right now. Good evening, Derrick .

    DERRIC PITTS, FRANKLIN INSTITUTE CHIEF ASTRONOMER: Thank you, Keith . I`ll try to keep a straight face.

    OLBERMANN: That`s one of us. If it`s going to take several years to get to Mars , are those people just out of luck?

    PITTS: No, I don`t think they are because, you know, it`s such a long trip, this is one of those things that`s going to have to come out of a relationship of people traveling together. They are going to have to figure out what to do with their sexual urges, and I`m betting that something interesting is going to happen on that trip.

    OLBERMANN: But isn`t there already a report that supposedly that -- it was never really answered whether the couple on the Shuttle , that fell in love in the lead-up period to the launch and got engaged just before they took off, so to speak, that they never really denied that perhaps the marriage began in a physical sense somewhere in sub-orbital space?

    PITTS: Yes, you`re right. They essentially refused to answer that question, saying it was nobody`s business and we really didn`t need to get into that, because of their level of professionalism. I really doubt that anything has happened in any of the American space program missions. And partly the reason is that, you know, if you`re an astronaut, you really do not want to jeopardize your future chances for returning to space, so you`re going to do everything you`re told, and you`re not going to do anything that you shouldn`t be doing.

    OLBERMANN: Well, but that begs the question, doesn`t it, that on some of these three-year trips, that you might be instructed to procreate on the way to Mars . What if you don`t want to?

    PITTS: I think they`ll figure out how to set up the pairings. I think maybe they`ll do a little space computer dating system, you know, to figure out who`s going to be an astronaut and who isn`t. It`s just an extra box you check, Keith , that tells you what happens.


    PITTS: You got it, there you go.

    OLBERMANN: We showed a little of the History Channel , which actually did a special about this. And they had some great ideas for how to get it done. Is, in fact, the space station big enough where there would be any privacy anywhere?

    PITTS: The space station is a really good size, and there are plenty of nooks and crannies where people could sort of get themselves away in a corner and have a little fun. So there`s plenty of room. And when you take a look around the various components, you find out that, you know, the Russian areas are a little bit more -- have a little bit more privacy in some of their spaces. But I think those kinds of spaces and those kinds of opportunities are going to continue to develop and present themselves.

    OLBERMANN: You just hit the nut of the point here. Is there a space sex race and did we lose it to the Russians?

    PITTS: You know, I don`t think anybody is going to tell us whether that has happened or not. I think we have to just look at the faces of the cosmonauts and see if they`re smiling or not. That might give us some hint as to what happened.

    OLBERMANN: Whether it`s a cosmonaut or an astronaut, is there downtime enough to have done this on your own at some point?

    PITTS: Actually, Keith , that`s a very good point. You know, this is such an expensive endeavor that the ground controllers absolutely schedule every last second of time they possibly can to get the most efficiency out of this, out of the work that`s being done. And so there really isn`t very much time. Although astronauts always do have some personal time and, you know, let`s -- We should just mention that where there`s a will, there`s a way. If there`s time, somebody can get to it.

    OLBERMANN: Derrick Pitts of the Franklin Institute , who`s our champion tonight for getting through this in one piece, great thanks.

    PITTS: Thank you, sir.

By Senior writer
updated 4/23/2011 3:13:58 PM ET 2011-04-23T19:13:58

While humans have been a spacefaring species for more than 50 years, it's quite possible we have not performed that most basic of acts — sex — beyond terra firma. Yet.

Rumors have long swirled that astronauts may have hooked up in orbit, perhaps even as part of secret sex-in-space experiments run by the Russian or American governments. But those stories are likely the product of overactive — and overheated — imaginations, experts say.

A Russian space official, for example, has been quoted as categorically denying his country's space program has conducted any such weightless experiments.

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"There is no official or unofficial evidence that there were instances of sexual intercourse or the carrying out of sexual experiments in space," Valery Bogomolov, the deputy director of the Moscow-based Institute of Biomedical Problems, told the news agency Interfax. "At least, in the history of Russian or Soviet space exploration, this most certainly was not the case." [10 Surprising Sex Statistics]

What about NASA astronauts?
Bogomolov also addressed the rumors of American hanky-panky, though with considerably less authority.

"As for American space exploration, I just don't have the information to categorically deny that," Bogomolov told Interfax. "In any case we do not have any official data. There are just anecdotal rumors, insinuations in the press, which are not worth trusting."

Those in the know say NASA astronauts have likely been as chaste as their Russian counterparts while zipping around Earth at 17,500 mph (28,164 kilometers per hour). While NASA apparently doesn't explicitly forbid sex in orbit, its astronaut code of conduct calls for "relationships of trust" and "professional standards" to be maintained at all times.

"I'm not aware of an official NASA policy on this," said former astronaut Leroy Chiao, a veteran of four space missions between 1994 and 2005. "It was not discussed when I was there, it was simply understood. Nobody brought it up — it simply wasn't a consideration."

Despite the advent of mixed-gender crews in 1983, NASA astronauts seem to have behaved themselves in orbit, according to Chiao.

"As for any couple having had sex in space, I seriously doubt it," Chiao told in an email interview.

Chiao, who spent more than 229 days in space, explained some of his reasoning in a blog post for the tech website Gizmodo back in 2009.

"Guys are guys. If a guy had sex in space, he would not be able to stand not bragging about it," Chiao wrote. "Sorry to disappoint you, but there it is. We would all know about it. Or, I should say, we will all know about it when it happens."

Other astronauts have backed Chiao's viewpoint, saying that NASA's spacefliers have thus far been too focused on their missions to risk any romantic entanglements in orbit.

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That's not to say that such entanglements don't unfold back on Earth, however, as the messy love triangle involving then-astronauts William Oefelein and Lisa Nowak demonstrates. Nowak was arrested in 2007 for allegedly attacking a woman she viewed as a rival for Oefelein's affections. She ultimately received probation.

It will happen
Sex in space will happen eventually, if it hasn't already. It's one thing for a space shuttle crew to contain themselves for a few weeks, or astronauts aboard the station to remain chaste for five or six months. But manned missions to Mars would last years, so abstinence for that long would be a tall order for most people.

And sex would likely be a natural part of life at a lunar or Mars base, especially if the aim is to one day establish a self-sustaining colony.

The rise of private spaceflight should open the door even more to sex in space. Space tourists would not be bound by NASA's code of conduct, or as restricted by the demands of a complicated mission.

And some people will probably even fly to space just to join the "220-mile-high club." Virgin Galactic, which hopes to start flying tourists to suborbital space as early as next year, has already turned down a $1 million offer from an unidentified party to aid in the production of a sex-in-space movie.

You can follow senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcomand on Facebook.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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