Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Tuesday, October 12, 2004

  Pregnancy and birth in space

Every so often I get on a google-driven research track that's interesting.

I got asked, recently, "what are the prospects for pregnancy and childbirth in a zero-g/microgravity environment"?

That intrigued me. So I googled. The answers were surprising.

We don't know. In the 43 years since we've entered space not one experiment has attempted to go from impregnation of a mammalian species to birth, and beyond, in space.

The preliminary results are intriguing, however. Impregnation didn't work... The closest thing to a comprehensive exploration of the subject notes:
... male and female rats were allowed to mate in space. No pregnancies resulted, but post-flight laparotomy showed that the ovulation and fertilization did occur in the rats, though for some reason embryogenesis did not proceed in the normal way. Later, the same rats were mated with nonflight rats and all the litters were found to be normal.

But pregnant rats survived spaceflight and gave birth more or less normally

Offspring of flight dams appeared to have impaired auditory detection capability and possibly vestibular supersensitivity. Other perturbations in development caused by the space environment may have been compensated during the five days between biosatellite recovery and birth.

Our findings indicate that, with the exception of labor contractions, mammalian pregnancy and parturition remain qualitatively and quantitatively intact after spaceflight during pregnancy.


And as for humans...

A 26-year-old ex-factory worker named Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space. On 16 June 1963 she piloted the Vostok 6 mission which lasted 70 hrs 50 min.. Later that year in the month of November she married Cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev, the pilot of the 94hr 22min Vostok 3 mission. A year later Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova gave birth to a healthy baby girl [...] Margaret Rhea Seddon (who first flew on the SLS-1 mission) [...] conceived and gave birth to a healthy baby after being in space, which suggests that short duration space missions apparently cause no permanent harmful effects to the reproductive system in human beings.

Why, then, with long duration missions for humans of over 400 days, have we not fully investigated the complete 22 day gestation and birth cycle of rats? Beats me - but the Australians plan to find out more in 2005.
 
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