NASA sends human sperm into space for 1st time

NASA sends human sperm into space for 1st time

As luxury space hotels and long-term Mars missions become a reality, so too will people who make babies (or at least try to) in space.

It's perhaps worth noting that the current ISS crew of six men may have had alternative methods for acquiring a whole bunch of human sperm that would have been cheaper than hitching a ride on a multimillion-dollar space launch, but it's understandable why the space agency didn't go that route, if for no other reason than the limits of what can be reasonably demanded in even an outer space workplace.

The experiments are important because there's evidence from earlier experiments that the lack of gravity might throw off how sperm function here on Earth. So it's good to start looking into how that might work out before it happens. While sperm themselves might be able to move more freely in microgravity, the bigger challenge might be getting the sperm to fuse with the egg.

In previous experiments with urchin and bull sperm, activation happens quicker in microgravity, but the steps that lead up to successful fusing are very delayed or simply do not happen at all. "Delays or problems at this stage could prevent fertilization from happening in space", according to NASA's web site.

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After thawing the samples, astronauts aboard the International Space Station will activate the sperm using a unique chemical concoction. However, human sperm are inherently more varied in motion and appearance.

Changes in the bull semen will allow researchers to detect subtle differences in sperm from both species.

Kathryn's already taken part in several space projects, including following British astronaut Tim Peake's mission on the International Space Station, listening to amateur radio signals from space, and having some code running on a Raspberry Pi computer aboard the ISS. The clip was created using data beamed back by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which, at the time, had spent roughly two years hiking about and studying Earth's satellite.

Nasa added: "We don't know yet how long-duration spaceflight affects human reproductive health, and this investigation would be the first step in understanding the potential viability of reproduction in reduced-gravity conditions". The Micro-11 experiment's supplies were delivered by SpaceX's Dragon capsule a couple weeks ago.

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