Can animals mate in space?

08 January 2019


Can animals mate and give birth in space?


Chris Smith put Simon's question to Space Boffin Richard Hollingham...

Richard - It is a good question, can I break that down into two things. So let's talk about the animals that we know have mated in space. So we know frogs have mated, salamanders have mated, sea urchins have mated, fish have mated. We're not sure about humans. So they're the animals that have mated in space. Then you have to look at offspring. So there are some have given birth in space and there are some that have conceived in space and then given birth back on Earth. So we know frogs have successfully reproduced, salamanders, sea urchins not so much, fish have successfully reproduced. I was looking at this and the best research seems to be done on mice and they had mice conceived in space and then they brought the embryos back to Earth watch their development, not as successful. So not so many successful healthy mice were born as would have been born on Earth. So this is almost certainly down to lack of gravity.

Chris - Really not just radiation, isn’t there incident radiation in space?

Richard - There is but that's unlikely.You know when you’re only talking a few days on the space station which is shielded and in low Earth orbit. So anyway it's got the protection of the Earth's magnetic field, certainly the conclusion of that paper was that there's some gravity factor acting on the embryo.

Anne-Laura - How is that the fact that they are in space it must be really stressful for these animals. How is stress being taken into account?

Richard - Well they probably haven't. If you were a mouse floating around in a windowless box,you know, that's not an unstressful environment. So yeah absolutely it could well be that it could well be that. I think there is a bigger, if you going to talk about stress is a bigger moral issue with the point of doing this research is so humans can reproduce and live in space. Either in an orbit around a planet in zero gravity, or on the moon, or Mars in lower gravity, then what are the morals of actually raising a child in that sort of environment? For the same reason we don't raise children in remote Antarctic bases. Should we actually be raising children on Mars? And I think that's a more interesting question almost.


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