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.

updated 10/1/2011 8:30:52 PM ET 2011-10-02T00:30:52

Building a spaceship to visit another star is hard enough, but keeping the humans onboard alive for the ride may be even harder, space experts said Friday at a symposium dedicated to interstellar travel.

A trip to even one of the closest stars would take decades and possibly hundreds of years, likely spanning multiple generations. But scientists aren't even sure humans can procreate safely in the microgravity of space.

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"It is still unknown, if you want kids and you want reproduction, what gravity has to do with successful development," MIT researcher Dan Buckland said here at the 100-Year Starship Symposium, a conference sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to discuss technologies and strategies needed for planning a mission to another star. [Gallery: Visions of Future Human Spaceflight]

So far, humans haven't managed to send a probe beyond even our own solar system, let alone to the nearest star, 4 light-years away. A light-year, the distance light travels in a single year, is about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers). 

"The distances to the stars at vast," said biologist Athena Andreadis of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. "Large starships will have to be self-sustainable. We don't have such technology yet."

Unless scientists can invent a practical method of simulating gravity on a spacecraft, an interstellar journey would be spent in weightlessness. Over time, microgravity ravages the body, decreasing blood volume, atrophying muscles, diminishing bone mineral content and impairing vision.

Sex in space and other worries
The effects on a developing fetus would likely be even more severe, perhaps disrupting normal embryonic development and even neurological functioning. A baby's body and bones may develop differently in weightlessness.

And then there's birth to think about.

"Giving birth in zero gravity is going to be hell because gravity helps you" on the ground, Andreadis told "You rely on the weight of the baby."

And that's if would-be parents can even get that far.

"Sex is very difficult in zero gravity, apparently, because you have no traction and you keep bumping against the walls," Andreadis said. "Think about it: You have no friction, you have no resistance."

Ultimately, even if human babies can successfully be conceived and born in space, multigenerational space travel comes with a host of other difficulties. In addition to the ill effects of microgravity on the body, people on such a journey could fall prey to disease, and the psychological effects of being stuck onboard a vehicle in the vacuum of space could take their toll.

"Something will come up that we simply haven't thought about," Andreadis said. "We have to be prepared for casualties."

Getting there is only half the challenge
And arriving at the destination — another star, hopefully one with a habitable planet that humans can colonize — doesn't end the difficulties.

Even habitable planets are unlikely to be identical to Earth, so we will likely have to build an Earthlike biosphere within a dome to live in, or terraform the planet completely. Besides the ethical questions of whether it's right to make radical alterations on another world, and potentially eradicate any microbial life on it, terraforming is a complex technological endeavor. [The Top 10 Star Trek Technologies]

"Not only are we bad at terraforming, but we don’t have the life span or the attention span to carry it through," Andreadis said. "Terraforming is a failure of the imagination. It's like people who take those expensive trips to Paris and eat at McDonald's."

A better option may be to use genetic engineering to help people withstand their newfound environment. Of course, that is quite complicated, too, and could create a second species of humans so different from those back on Earth that the two groups wouldn't even be able to interbreed if they were reunited.

"We will have to grow up and do self-directed evolution, realizing that what comes out of the other end may not be 'human,'" Andreadis said. "If we stake our future among the stars, we must change for the journey and the destination."

You can follow senior writer Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

© 2013 All rights reserved. More from

Explainer: 10 pieces of Star Trek tech

  • Paramount Pictures

    The latest reboot of the Star Trek franchise follows the story of a young James Kirk on his way to becoming captain of the Starship Enterprise. The movie gives Trekkies a fresh dose of fictional high-tech wizardry. But is any of this possible in the real world? Click the "Next" arrow above to see how 10 pieces of Trek tech, from teleportation to warp drive, are faring here on Earth.

    -- By John Roach, MSNBC contributor

  • Teleportation: a work in progress

    Ray Strange  /  AFP via Getty Images file

    "Beam me up, Scotty!" Oh, how easy travel would be if the technology existed to disintegrate our bodies in one place and nearly instantaneously make them reappear at our destination. Unfortunately, that kind of teleportation remains firmly fixed in the realm of Star Trek fiction. However, scientists are meeting with some success as they try to teleport messages encoded in beams of light across table-length distances, such as this experiment from 2002. More recent advances include teleporting information from one trapped atom to another.

  • Tricorder-like device scans for cancer

    Boris Rubinsky et al.

    Star Trek fans know tricorders as familiar handheld devices that scan unfamiliar planets (and organisms). Real-world citizens, too, are becoming familiar with a host of futuristic gizmos that do everything from reading a critter's DNA to scanning patients for cancerous tumors, as shown in this side-by-side comparison of a fictional tricorder (left) and a medical scan of simulated breast tumor displayed on a cell phone.

  • Deflector shield envisioned for Mars missions

    Ruth Bamford And John Bradford

    A so-called deflector shield surrounds the Starship Enterprise, protecting the spacecraft and its crew from lethal doses of radiation. Lab experiments now suggest that a portable magnetic shield could protect real-life astronauts on a mission to Mars. The shield would force harmful particles to curve around the ship. The engineering details remain to be worked out, and for now, the shield protects only against particles from the solar wind. Gamma rays and X-rays would remain a threat. An artistic depiction of the technology deployed on the Enterprise is shown here.

  • U.S. Air Force develops PHaSER

    Image: PHaSER
    U.s. Air Force

    The weapon of choice for Trekkies is the phaser, a device that directs an adjustable beam of energy at its target. The phaser is capable of a range of effects, from a momentary stun to instant obliteration. The U.S. Air Force has developed its own prototype device with the Star Trek moniker PHaSER (Personal Halting and Stimulation Response). The hefty gunlike device was originally developed to blind an attacker temporarily. A second laser has since been added capable of heating up skin.

  • Holodeck tech emerging

    Tom Uhlman  /  AP

    Starfleet members seeking knowledge or fun can step into holodecks to experience an interactive virtual reality eerily close to life itself. Similar technologies are beginning to emerge in the real world, including this 3-D lab at Wright State University in Ohio, where businesses can use the technology to speed up and improve the designs of products. An energy company is using it to enhance their search for oil. Other firms are embracing advances in video and audio technology to make telepresence, or videoconferencing, more realistic. The most lifelike experiences, however, remain in science fiction.

  • Tractor beam manipulates cells on a chip


    In Star Trek, tractor beams are used by starships and space stations to control the movement of objects usually to pull them in closer, tow them along, or push them away. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have used a tractor beam of light to pick up, hold and move around individual cells on the surface of a microchip. To demonstrate the technology, the researchers moved around and held in place 16 E. coli cells to spell out MIT, as shown in this image.

  • Cell phones are pretty good communicators

    Apple Inc. via AP

    Trek-style communicators are those little devices, handheld or sometimes worn as a badge, that allow Starfleet members to speak to others in different parts of the ship or different parts of a planet. Modern-day cell phones, including the iPhone shown here, just might wow even the likes of Captain Kirk.

  • Universal translators making strides


    In Star Trek, language is seldom a barrier thanks to universal translators, devices that allow people of different tongues to converse. Communication among cultures in the real world remains a challenge, but basic words and phrases are no longer stumbling blocks, thanks to gadgets such as the translator from iTRAVL shown here. Speak into the device, and it will translate the word or phrase and speak it aloud.

  • Cloaking devices coming out of hiding

    Naomi Halas, Rice University |

    Cloaking devices are rampant in science fiction, from Star Trek to Harry Potter but they are no longer confined to the imagination. Real-world scientists are creating new materials that manipulate wavelengths of light in ways that can hide objects from detection. This graphic shows the basic design of a 3-D metamaterial lined with nanocups that redirect the flow of light that hits it, making the object invisible.

  • Warp drive? Don't bet on it

    Les Bossinas  /  NASA

    The Enterprise can travel faster than light via something called warp drive — essentially, a device that warps the space-time continuum around a starship. Many scientists have batted around ideas about how to achieve blistering speeds in real life, but most experts have concluded that, at least for now, warping the fabric of space is beyond human understanding of the laws of physics. Among the difficulties is harnessing the energy required to kick-start the propulsion.

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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