Astronaut Sex: Anyone In The 100 Mile High Club?

Ken AshfordCrime, Science & Technology, Sex/Morality/Family Values3 Comments

Nowak_sWell, the Nowak story seems to be the story of the day — both in the mainstream media and the blogosphere — presumably for it’s weirdness/entertainment value.

CNN is now reporting that astronaut Lisa Nowak will face charges of attempted murder.  That’s on top of her three other charges for battery, attempted kidnapping and attempted vehicle burglary with battery.

For those of you late to the party, Nowak, who flew on the space shuttle Discovery last summer, drove 1,000 miles — from Houston to Orlando — yesterday to confront (assualt? kidnap? murder?) a NASA engineer named Linda Shipman. 

Nowak wore a diaper on the trip so she wouldn’t have to stop for bathroom breaks (it was probably one of those NASA-engineered things they sometimes wear). 

It seems that both Shipman and Nowak were competing for the affections of astronaut Bill Oefelein (who piloted the last space shuttle mission).  And Nowak was, well, going to do something about that.

Here’s what (allegedly) happened when the diaper-wearing Nowak met Shipman:

Shipman told police she arrived at the Orlando International Airport about 1 a.m. and had to wait two hours for her luggage.

As Shipman walked to her car she noticed a woman in a trench coat who appeared to be following her, the police report said. She quickly jumped into her car and heard "running footsteps" behind her, Shipman told police.

Nowak slapped the window of the car as Shipman locked it, the report said. Nowak then tried to open the car door, saying that her ride had not arrived.

Shipman told Nowak she would send for help, but when Nowak said she couldn’t hear her and started to cry, Shipman cracked her window, the report said. The 2-inch space in the window was all Nowak needed to send pepper spray into the car, police said.

Her eyes burning, Shipman drove to a tollbooth and reported the incident.

When an officer found Nowak at a bus stop, she was wearing a different coat, and the officer observed her putting items in a trash can, the police report said. The officer retrieved a wig and a BB gun from the trash can, the report said.

Police found in Nowak’s bag a tan trench coat, a new steel mallet, a folding knife with a 4-inch blade, 3 to 4 feet of rubber tubing, large plastic garbage bags and about $600 in cash, the report said.

Nowak acknowledged details of Shipman’s allegations, according to police, and allowed officers to search her car. There, police found diapers, six latex gloves, directions from Houston to Orlando International Airport, e-mails from Shipman to Oefelein, a letter indicating how much she loved Oefelein and directions to Shipman’s home address in Florida, the report said.

SexinspaceAll this is preface to the point of this post, which is to attempt to answer that age-old question: Has anyone ever had sex in space?

C’mon.  You know you’ve wondered about it, too.

Fortunately, the Nowak story has resurrected the old question, and a science blogger with the Houston Chronicle gives us the skinny:

First of all, is sex in space is possible? Sure. One NASA physician, Dr. James Logan, recently addressed the topic at a Las Vegas Convention. Live Science reports, though, that it might be messy:

"Sex in micro-g might be a little underwhelming. That is, the fantasy might be vastly superior to the reality. It’s a pretty messy environment…for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction," Logan told an attentive audience over the weekend at the NewSpace 2006 meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation.

Sex in zero-g is going to have to be more or less choreographed, "otherwise it’s just going to be a wild fling," Logan advised. But for those looking forward to space migration and setting up self-perpetuating civilizations off-Earth, the space physician raised several warning flags.

Is conception possible? Is it safe? Sex in Space author Laura Woodmansee says it’s unclear whether conception is possible, but that it’s quite possible such a conception would be unsafe:

Will a fertilized embryo attach properly to the uterus wall? Are life-threatening ectopic pregnancies more likely in weightlessness? How will reentry acceleration affect a mother and fetus? Are the higher radiation levels of Earth orbit likely to cause problems with the first cell divisions? It may be perfectly safe to conceive in orbit, but we just don’t know enough to take that chance with the health and happiness of a child.

And now, for the big question: has anyone ever had sex in space before? Possibly. The crew of STS-47 included a married couple, N. Jan Davis and Mark C. Lee, who declined interviews after the flight. But whether it actually happened is only answered by a universe of rumor, innuendo and legend. There’s been no kissing and telling — yet.

Finally, might some astronauts have masturbated? Not only is it possible, it’s probable as at least one mission physician recommended it to the astronauts out of concern for infected prostate glands. I’m not making this up. The Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins, writing in his book Liftoff, states about the Skylab mission:

"One doctor advised regular masturbation, advice [Skylab crew member] Joe [Kerwin] ignored." Later, he writes: "There was no sex on Skylab." And still later, he addresses the possibility of recreation in space: "And lovemaking! I don’t think any astronauts have yet been privileged to sample the ultimate use of weightlessness."

Note that he only states that one of the astronauts ignored the advice on masturbation, not all of them. Hmmm.

So there you have it.  Has there ever been sex in space?  Answer: Maybe.