Big Bang: Dutch Firm Aims to Reproduce Safely in Space
Eindhoven, Netherlands – Climate crises, nuclear Armageddon, or a sudden meteor strike – humanity could certainly benefit from having a backup plan. Dutch entrepreneur Egbert Edelbroek believes that before we can establish settlements on other planets, we must first learn to reproduce safely in space.
Edelbroek’s company, Spaceborn United, is leading the way in space sex research, with the ultimate goal of enabling natural conception and birth in the partial gravity environment found on Mars.
The challenges of achieving safe space sex are vast, but the optimistic Dutchman is confident that he will witness the birth of an extraterrestrial human child within his lifetime.
“It’s crucial for Earth and humanity to become a multiplanetary species,” Edelbroek told AFP. “If we want independent human settlements beyond Earth, and if we genuinely want them to be self-sustaining, we need to tackle the reproductive challenge.”
The absence of gravity poses a major obstacle to actual sexual intercourse in space, as a couple would drift apart. To address this issue, Spaceborn United is first focusing on conceiving an embryo in space.
Starting with mice and eventually moving to human sperm and egg cells, the company has developed a disc that mixes the cells together, aiming to produce a viable embryo.
“It’s like a ‘space station for your cells’,” explained Aqeel Shamsul, CEO of UK-based Frontier Space Technologies, which is collaborating with Spaceborn on this project.
The resulting embryo is cryogenically frozen, pausing its development and ensuring protection during re-entry. “The embryos must endure a lot of shaking, vibration, and G-forces. Exposing them to this would be detrimental,” Edelbroek remarked.
While research is currently being conducted under simulated partial gravity laboratory conditions, Edelbroek stated that a launch with mice cells is planned for the end of next year. He estimated a timeline of “five or six years” for the first launch involving a human embryo.
Nevertheless, implanting such an embryo into a woman on Earth and witnessing the first child conceived in space requires overcoming significant ethical dilemmas.
“It’s a delicate topic. Eventually, you’ll be exposing vulnerable human cells and embryos to the hazards of space – higher levels of radiation and gravity environments the embryos were never designed for,” Edelbroek emphasized.
These ethical concerns are among the reasons why research into space reproduction has generally been led by private firms like Spaceborn, rather than government agencies like NASA, which are hesitant to allocate tax dollars for such sensitive projects.
Edelbroek mentioned that his company is the only one currently focused on developing a human embryo in space.
In a low-gravity environment, bodily fluids that would normally be pulled down on Earth would instead be drawn upwards, posing several challenges for the human body.
“While an adult body can adapt to some differences, subjecting a developing fetus to these varying conditions would not be ideal. Therefore, creating the perfect environment is crucial,” Edelbroek explained.
The growth of space tourism, driven by companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, is also a new factor in space reproduction. Edelbroek warned that couples on space tourism flights may desire to go down in history as the first to conceive in space, and his team is consulting with the sector to raise awareness about the associated risks.
Furthermore, Spaceborn’s research, which mimics the IVF process in space, is also assisting individuals closer to home in achieving pregnancy, according to Edelbroek.
As the magnitude of the challenges became apparent, the Dutchman admitted to scaling back his plans, going from “crazy ambitious to just very ambitious.”
Nonetheless, he firmly believes that a baby will be born in space within his lifetime. “I expect to live to be at least 100 years old,” said the 48-year-old. “That should provide us with enough decades to accomplish this, without a doubt.”
“Ultimately, humanity – hopefully with our involvement – needs to achieve childbirth in space.”