The First Baby in Space . A startup has announced plans to host the first live human birth IN SPACE. That’s right, A SPACE BABY! Space-life Origin aims to answer all our questions about making babies in space. The team consists of several entrepreneurs and “business experts” as well as a small team of science advisors.
And their 2024 mission, dubbed “Mission Cradle” aims to have the first human baby born in space. Their website doesn’t include a terrible amount of detail as to exactly how this mission will go down. But it does specify it will last 24-36 hours, and involves a pregnant woman and a “trained, world class medical team” being launched 400km above earth to a space station. There, the woman will give birth before mom and babe are returned to the surface. The website also adds that a “carefully prepared and monitored process will reduce all possible risks.”
But, as you can imagine, people are still very concerned about the possible risks. For starters, this plan involves putting a VERY pregnant woman under extreme g-forces. Astronauts typically experience roughly 3x the force of gravity during rocket launches, and it can be even more if something goes wrong. We don’t know what this amount of force would do to a human mom or child. Then there are concerns about the safety of actually delivering a baby up there- with no gravity to hold the mother to a delivery bed or the doctors to the floor- things get complicated quickly.
And don’t even get me started on the bodily fluids. Then of course this newborn baby will have to survive the treacherous return trip- one that involves hypersonic speeds, extreme temperatures, and an often not-so-soft landing. But beyond the safety concerns, getting regulatory approval for a mission like this could be extremely difficult.
Experimentation on human EMBRYOS already faces strict regulation and international ethical debate, so you can imagine the hurdles involved with an experiment involving a full-term baby in space. But putting all of that aside, let’s say they do actually manage to get this woman up there and she successfully gives birth.
What would we expect for a baby born in micro-gravity? There have already be a handful of experiments involving animal reproduction in space- rodents, fish, flies, and even jellyfish have all been sent up there to pop out little ones. All of these tests resulted in live offspring, so we know the fundamental birthing process can happen in micro-gravity. And pregnant rats sent to the ISS in 2001 gave birth to pretty healthy pups. Though they initially had underdeveloped vestibular systems, after about 5 days that righted itself, and they were basically normal.
But ISS data involving humans in micro-gravity has shown there are negative health effects to being in space. Bone loss and altered immune systems are common, which could present challenges for space baby #1. People have also raised concerns about what the recycled oxygen on board would do to the baby’s lungs during its first breaths- and concerns about the increased radiation levels of outer space. Additional research suggests that stressful pregnancy and birthing experiences can affect the growth and development of a baby, and it’s hard to imagine giving birth on a space station would be a calm experience.
Then, all of these potential issues are compounded by the baby’s return to earth and first experiences with gravity. Will a baby born in space be able to acclimate to the gravity of Earth? It’s obviously a crazy plan, and the list of unknowns is lengthy. But Space-life Origin stresses that this kind of experiment is bound to happen one way or another, publicly or otherwise. Learning how to reproduce in space will be crucial if our species aims to colonize other planets. Though, admittedly putting a pregnant woman in a rocket might not be the most elegant solution.
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