Russian scientists have run into an unexpected problem while attempting to glean scientific samples from cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The effects of long-duration space travel are still largely unknown, so before we send people off to colonize Mars, we need to know as much as possible about what happens to the human body up there, and that includes how men’s little swimmers cope.
Unfortunately, Kremlin scientists are struggling to crack on with the study of how space flight may influence spermatogenesis, due to the cosmonauts proving rather reluctant to offer up their “biomaterial”.
The extremely important and scientific task of obtaining said sample of biomaterial in microgravity conditions “causes everyone to smile and reject,” according to Irina Ogneva, head of the cell biophysics lab at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biomedical Problems.
“We cannot conduct [through the Coordination Scientific and Technical Council, which approves of conducting experiments on the Russian segment of the ISS], such a routine procedure as cosmonauts donating spermograms,” she told Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
“We constantly encounter obstacles of a moral and psychological and ethical nature. There are no cosmonauts who want to.”
As a result, the Russians have been unable to conduct experiments on how sperm are affected by space conditions, which is vital research if future generations colonizing other planets are planning on procreating.
The logistics of sex in space is a little mind-boggling, with microgravity (fun fact: zero-g is a misnomer since gravity is everywhere in space) creating factors to consider that range from shrinkage of appendages that rely on blood flow to escaping fluids.
So, if the Russians aren’t at it, have NASA and ESA stepped up to the plate? According to NASA, the agency has never conducted official experiments on animal reproduction in space. It did, however, send an experiment to the ISS last year that involved freeze-dried sperm (procured on the ground, possibly to spare its astronauts some blushes).
Micro-11, carrying the frozen samples of human and bull semen (bull swimmers are tough apparently), launched in April 2018 to allow scientists to monitor sperm’s functionality in space, and, just as crucially, after. According to NASA, we know little about the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human reproduction system, and this was a first step in looking at how sperm functions required for male fertility fare in micro-G.
In 2017, scientists managed to successfully produce live offspring from mouse sperm that had spent nine months in space. However, if NASA aims to create a lunar base by the end of this decade, with future plans to Mars on the horizon, we need to get a handle on understanding how human fertility fares in space. Space travelers, your countries need YOU.