With more than 4.6 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you’re throwing a term paper together at the last minute or re-editing Pluto’s page because it is so a planet! But follow enough links, and you get sucked into some seriously strange places. We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 4,683,612-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: Sex in space
What it’s about: Since the earliest humans gazed up at the heavens, humankind has shared a dream that our species would break the shackles of this earthly realm and that one day, we would be up there, among the stars, doin’ it. Yes, as long as we’ve been traveling into space, we’ve been thinking about having sex in space. Officially, no one has ever been sent into orbit while actually in orbit. And unofficially, while rumors persist, it’s actually fairly unlikely anyone’s ever boldly come where no one has gone before. But humanity will still gaze heavenward and dream a sexy, sexy dream.
Strangest fact: The biggest obstacle to outer space intercourse was first spelled out in 1687. Newton’s Third Law Of Motion states that every force exerted is met by an equal and opposite force. In practical terms, this means that without gravity pulling both partners towards a reassuringly firm mattress, every caress and thrust can send a copulating couple spinning off in unpredictable directions—a serious issue given our current spacecrafts’ close quarters and tendency to cover every available surface with sensitive equipment.
Biggest controversy: While most earthly laws have no jurisdiction in the exosphere, Rule 34 still applies. While there’s no definitive proof that anyone has had sex in space, there is, perhaps unsurprisingly, zero-gravity porn. The Uranus Experiment: Part Two claims to include real-life weightless copulation. The effect was achieved via the “vomit comet” method—flying a plane to high altitude then doing a steep dive, providing temporary weightlessness to the plane’s occupants. Because of the difficult logistics and the film’s low budget, weightless sex was only achieved for about 20 seconds, and viewers of the film say those seconds are hard to pick out among other scenes of very clearly faked zero-G.
Thing we were happiest to learn: NASA’s working on it. While the agency has never acknowledged any human astronauts getting down to business, our space program has performed experiments involving rodents’ reproductive cycles. It seems that mice can get pregnant in space, although their fertility rate was lower than it would be on Earth. And baby rats have been raised in zero gravity, although they had no sense of up or down upon returning to Earth. Science has yet to study an entire cycle of conception, pregnancy, and birth in space, but knowing such a thing is possible may be essential to long-term interplanetary missions.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: According to the experts, mankind’s future among the stars may never come to pass because of a very sexy problem: weightless boobs. No less an authority than Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins (the one who stayed behind on the ship, apparently with some time on his hands to let his imagination run wild) wrote in his autobiography of female space travelers’ “breasts bobbing beautifully and quivering delightfully in response to every weightless movement… and I am the commander of the craft, and it is Saturday morning and time for inspection.”
Science fiction has also weighed in on the subject. Arthur C. Clarke’s 1973 novel Rendezvous With Rama agreed with Collins that, “Some women… should not be allowed aboard ship; weightlessness did things to their breasts that were too damn distracting.” Isaac Asimov was at least able to take a more mature tack, writing an essay the same year called “Sex In A Spaceship,” analyzing more physics-oriented problems—nothing, he concluded, that couldn’t be overcome with a few restraints and padded walls.
Also noteworthy: Many of the rumors around sex having taken place in orbit involve STS-47. The 50th mission in the Space Shuttle program, was notable for carrying the first black woman into space, the first Japanese shuttle astronaut, and the first married astronauts. The presence of Jan Davis and Mark Lee has prompted much speculation that the couple engaged in marital relations while on board the shuttle. Given the shuttle’s close quarters and seven-member crew, this seems unlikely.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: The fashion world is at least ready for sex in space. The 2suit allows two people to attach to each other to facilitate intimate contact, and attach to a wall or other surface to insure stability. The suit was created by Vanna Bonta, after she experienced weightlessness during a parabolic flight in 2004. Bonta, who died last year, led a fascinating life. Born in the U.S. but raised in Italy and Thailand, she was a poet, actress, novelist, and inventor. She acted in The Beastmaster, and did voice work in Beauty And The Beast, and auditioned for the role of Diane Chambers on Cheers. Her postmodern sci-fi novel Flight prompted Gene Roddenberry to hire her to write for Star Trek: The Next Generation (she wrote an episode, “Somewhen,” which never aired.) A poem she wrote was sent to Mars aboard the MAVEN spacecraft. Besides the 2suit, Bonta also invented shoes that convert from heels to flats, and a device that reduces the risk of rocket engines from exploding during ignition.
Further down the wormhole: Studying the possibility of, and possible effects of, sex in space falls under the broader category of space medicine. That field mainly involves studying the medical consequences of long-term exposure to weightlessness, cosmic radiation, and other effects of space travel. The term “space medicine” was coined by Hubertus Strughold, former Nazi scientist and rival candy maker to Willy Wonka, who was brought into the U.S. space program under the auspices of Operation Paperclip. That secret program brought German scientists and engineers to America after World War II. We’ll look at the Nazis behind America’s space program (among other things) next week.