14 February 2011

Why infertility will stop humans colonising space - Science, News - The Independent

James Bond and Dr. Goodhead
In a rare case of scientific journalism, the title is spot on and the article falls apart with bad usage.  Yes, yes, sex has several usages.  There are better words to use for what Jerome Taylor describes.

Via Slashdot - Read the full source article here -> Why infertility will stop humans colonising space - Science, News - The Independent:
"Renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking once remarked that humankind would need to colonise space within the next century if it was to survive as a species. 
'It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next 100 years, let alone the next thousand or million,' he said somewhat pessimistically last year. 'Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.' 
The prospect of long-term space travel has led scientists to consider, increasingly seriously, the following conundrum: if travelling to a new home might take thousands of years, would humans be able to successfully procreate along the way? The early indications from Nasa are not encouraging. Space, it seems, is simply not a good place to have sex."
The article would be great if they would replace "have sex" in that last line with "be pregnant."  Our creator, who endowed us with some great rights, also placed us in an environment that is great for procreation.  Our environment on earth is also great for sex, as billions of people on this planet can probably attest.  A quick look around the internet will reveal all sorts of sex options many have never thought of.

Sex in space opens different options, for those who think things through and/or are not very clumsy.  I can imagine some bad execution of great spontaneous ideas on Terra firma (does the driver's side of a car count?) that might even work out better in space.  A sleeping bag on earth is okay, but one in weightlessness?  Fun^n!

The article does not address any of that, it gets into the details of how sensitive the cells related to reproduction are to radiation.  The give a nod to current radiation shielding being inadequate protection for fetal egg cells and they mention male fertility being at risk from radiation outside the Van Allen Belt, without mentioning our protection on earth.  Before anybody points out the "easy fix" of putting a magnetic plume around the spacecraft and off-world living environments, start figuring out how much energy that will take.

Maybe space is a great place to send teenagers so they can have sex without the complications of pregnancy?  Not quite, since the article indicates that you can have a new generation in space and colonization is stopping there using natural reproductive techniques.

I saved my major disappointment for the end.  Dr. Stephen Hawking, what are you thinking?  Yes, bad things happen here on earth every moment of the day.  However, humans are adapted to the environment that we have here on earth.  Some may argue that this place was made for us.  Either way, history has shown that we have no trouble surviving as a species here.  We are at the top of the food chain and created the right tools to keep us at the top.  We also created the tools for little adventures to the nasty parts of our own planet, that we do not think of colonizing.  One exception is Antarctica, that several countries have made colonization overtures to, completely unrelated to any survival of the species.

Moving out to space?  Not your best idea, Doctor.

No link to the NASA study was given in the article.

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