Sex in space? Tests show human reproduction likely to suffer

The Kansas City StarJanuary 5, 2011 

KANSAS CITY — Ever dream about a honeymoon in space?

You may want to think twice after you hear about Joe Tash’s research.

The near-zero gravity of Earth orbit may do serious harm to the male and female reproductive systems, the University of Kansas Medical Center biologist has discovered.

Sperm counts drop. Egg-producing ovary cells waste away.

At least that’s been the case among the laboratory and space-traveling rodents that Tash has studied.

What prolonged exposure to microgravity does to an astronaut’s fertility remains a big unknown. But Tash’s hypothesis isn’t reassuring: Long-term space flight renders people “reproductively compromised.”

“We have a lot of tantalizing data that require more rigorous investigation,” Tash said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re discovering this just as the shuttle program is winding down.”

Tash will have an experiment with mice on board in February for one of the final space shuttle flights.

His work remains a NASA priority, but in the future he will rely on commercial and foreign space flights to get his animals into orbit.

“Right now, there isn’t a lot (of reproductive system research) we’re looking at. Joe’s got the most interesting finding,” said Ken Souza, a space biologist working with NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

“We’re very excited from the biological standpoint of pursuing this.”

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