The Sciences

Houston, We May Have Some Problems: Colonizing Mars and Sex in Space

DiscoblogBy Patrick MorganJan 14, 2011 4:37 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Strap on your astronaut suit and hold on to your space shoes, because in 20 years, you could just be aboard Earth's first mission to Mars. At least, that's the hope of over 400 people who read the Journal of Cosmology's special edition issue, The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet, and volunteered to take part in a not-yet-scheduled trip to Mars. The journal spills the details about the logistics involved in a privately-funded journey to the Red Planet--a book-length brainstorm by leading scientists. What, for example, happens if you get an infection on Mars? How do you have sex in space? And, most importantly, how long do you have to live on Mars before you get to call yourself a Martian? (Ok, I made that last question up, but aren't you curious?) Any journey to Mars--especially one with no scheduled return to Earth--is fraught with challenges. As Fox News reports:

"It's going to be a very long period of isolation and confinement," said Albert Harrison, who has studied astronaut psychology since the 1970s as a professor of psychology at UC Davis.... "After the excitement of blast-off, and after the initial landing on Mars, it will be very difficult to avoid depression.... Each day will be pretty much like the rest. The environment, once the novelty wears off, is likely to be deadly boring. Despite being well prepared and fully equipped there are certain to be unanticipated problems that cannot be remedied. One by one the crew will get old, sick, and die-off."

Sounds like an awesome time, doesn't it? That's what more than 400 people thought as they enthusiastically volunteered for the first mission. Would-be space cadets flooded the journal's editors with requests: the ranks include a 69-year-old computer programer, 45-year-old nurse, and a Methodist pastor. "I do VERY well with solitude," wrote one starry-eyed solicitor. And since the mission would be privately funded--and not a NASA mission--the potential explorers wouldn't have to meet NASA's strict guidelines for becoming an astronaut--no need for those vexing little things like science degrees and professional experience. For cost reasons, the scientists focused on a one-way trip to Mars, which means that any Martian colony of Earthlings would have to be self-sustainable. That would entail having sex in space so that the colony's population wouldn't dwindle. In a chapter on space age procreation, Rhawn Joseph (who says he's affiliated with something called the Brain Research Laboratory in California) outlines the challenges the astronauts would have with pregnancy, fetal development, and even the "complex sexual gymnastics" inherent in doing it in space. Quoting Joseph, Fox News reports:

“On Mars, the light’s going to be different, the gravity will be different, it’s a completely different atmosphere.... So if you put an infant on Mars, they would adapt to varying degrees of the new environment. And after several generations, you’d have a new species,” [Joseph] said.

We're not sure where Joseph got his training in evolution--a new species within several generations seems mighty unlikely to us. But since we're discussing a hypothetical space colony, we'll let this hypothetical evolution go for now. Though we may still be a couple decades from a manned mission to Mars--a mission riddled with challenges, yet brimming with eager faces--one thing remains clear: Whether we're talking about Martian geology, the affects on human psychology, diseases, or sex, it's bound to be out of this world. Related Content: Science Not Fiction: Right Now Might Be Our Last Chance to Go to Mars in Our Lifetimes 80beats: The Real Problem With a Human Trip to Mars: Radiation 80beats: Six "Astronauts" Prepare for 17 Months in Isolation to Simulate Mars Mission Bad Astronomy: Mars exploration in trouble?Image: NASA, Hubble Space Telescope

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2023 Kalmbach Media Co.