SpaceX launched last week the CRS-14 in the direction of the International Space Station. The package sent into space contained tools, food for the astronauts, equipment and most surprisingly… sperm. Indeed, there is out there a big mystery that has left astronomers wondering for decades. Can humans conceive in space? To find out, NASA sent the sperm to the ISS with the aim of understanding the behavior of sperm in microgravity.
To conduct the study, NASA sent to space two types of sperm, a sample from a human being and another from a bull. Once at the destination, the precious liquids will be thawed to study it outside the laws of gravity.
Astronauts aboard the ISS will test whether samples of human sperm and bull (acting as quality control) can move fast enough to fuse with an egg in space. The astronauts will also record the video of the experiments and send the images to Earth for analysis.
Previous experiences have shown that the lack of gravity could undermine the functioning of sperm on Earth. It is also not the first time that scientists have studied sperm in space. In 2017, NASA had discovered that frozen mouse sperm had survived a 9-month trip to the ISS, and was able to produce healthy mice on Earth. But while the sperm themselves might be able to move more freely in microgravity, the biggest challenge might be to merge with the egg. “Delays or problems at this stage could prevent fertilization in space,” according to NASA’s website.
Once we understand how spermatozoa evolve in space, other issues will still have to be raised. What about the complexities of having sex in space? Can humans survive by giving birth in microgravity? Can a baby survive the massive amount of radiation levels? Will the lack of gravity affect children’s development? While considering a long-term mission in space may seem futuristic at first glance, with this research, scientists are laying the foundations of a new era.