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The Million-Mile-High Club: Do Astronauts Bone in Space?

One small thrust for man. One giant thrust for mankind.

Officially, nobody has ever had sex in space. Unofficially, they probably haven’t. But they will.

In 1992, the 50th space shuttle mission, STS-47, became the first to include a couple. This wasn’t the plan — astronauts Mark C. Lee and Jan Davis had met while training, fallen in love and married in secret. When they told their superiors, it was too late to replace them. 

While the tabloids leapt on the idea of a couple honeymooning in space, banging away in orbit, there’s no guarantee they had sex while in space. Lee and Davis remained tight-lipped when asked about it, and NASA insisted that there was no way it would have happened, due to the lack of privacy aboard the cramped shuttle Endeavour and the exhaustingly packed schedule of shuttle astronauts. They also codified what had previously been an unwritten rule about not sending couples into space, making Lee and Davis both the first and last married pair to leave the planet together.

Subsequently, even though a bunch of other astronauts have ended up hooking up at ground level — there’s presumably something fairly potent in the air when involved in something as intense as astronaut training — they’ve never flown on the same missions. 

What about hooking up while up there, though? If passions run high at Cape Canaveral, imagine being in space, the culmination of a lifelong dream come true. It doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that astronauts in space might get horny, and when aboard something like the International Space Station (ISS) rather than a shuttle mission, there’s definitely a bit more downtime and a bit more, uh, space.

Still not enough, says seven-time ISS visitor Jerry Ross, who tells Forbes, “No one to my knowledge [has had sex on the International Space Station]. If you’ve seen the interior of ISS, there isn’t a whole lot of room there.”

In 2010, NASA Commander Alan Poindexter returned from a two-week resupply mission there and was was asked if he was aware of anyone doing it. “We are a group of professionals,” he replied. “We treat each other with respect, and we have a great working relationship. Personal relationships are not … an issue. We don’t have them and we won’t.”

Just say it happens though — two astronauts are in the ISS and things take a hot turn. A zero-gravity environment provides sex with more than a few problems. Any sort of thrusting or impact is likely to send the participants floating off in opposite directions. This doesn’t make anything impossible, but it would mean either using straps to secure one (or both) of the sex-havers in place, or getting more people involved for support. Either way, it would generally take a bit of planning.

Gravity is also key to a lot of the body’s processes, including arousal. The parts of your body below your usual earthbound center of gravity receive less fluids when you float around, making engorgement a lot more challenging. Levels of testosterone, crucial to arousal in both men and women, plummet in space as well.

That said, in his autobiography Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut, astronaut Mike Mullane writes, “I had an erection so intense it was painful. I could have drilled through kryptonite.” However, other sections of his book are dedicated to complaining about how he feels NASA has been taken over by “tree-huggers, dolphin-friendly fish eaters, vegetarians and subscribers to the New York Times,” suggesting Mullane maybe isn’t the kind of guy who would be comfortable admitting space flight made his wee-wee little. Toward the end of the book he says, “By far, the greatest personal change my NASA experience had wrought was in my perception of women. I learned that they are real people with dreams and ambitions and only need the opportunity to prove themselves,” which is really something.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: If two astronauts did manage to get it on — strapped together or using a two-person sleeping bag or specially-designed space sex suit — then, novelty aside, it might not be that much fun. (And it might not even hold that much novelty. In 2015 Pornhub tried crowdfunding a plan to film a porn movie in space, but got nowhere near, raising just $236,086 of their $3.4 million target.)

How enjoyable it was might depend on how you feel about potentially getting an unexpected cupful of sweat to the face. Fluids act very differently in zero gravity, pooling together and floating freely, as physicist and astronomer John Millis explained to The Sun: “Because of the micro-gravity environment, sweat doesn’t run down the astronaut’s bodies like here on Earth. Instead it pools, like small ponds of fluid near where it was secreted. If the motion is vigorous enough, it could be ejected from the surface of the body. And that seems decidedly un-romantic, while also possibly bringing challenges to physical movements.” This would also apply to saliva, semen and vaginal fluid — entering a room of the International Space Station after people had fucked in it would be harrowing at best, beads of jizz bouncing off the walls.

We need to figure it out though, as we seem dead-set on destroying the Earth. And so, if we want to get to a point where people can live on the Moon or Mars, or live comfortably for extended periods of time in space, space sex has to be properly looked into, both as a part of life and the way of creating more of it. Especially because prolonged radiation exposure can have marked effects on testicles and ovaries — not to mention fetuses. To that end, some female mice who went to space in 2010 and 2011 stopped ovulating

NASA, however, is in a tricky position. Any experiments with sex in space need to be exactly that — experiments. Everything that can possibly be observed, measured and analyzed should be, which creates difficulties given that NASA is taxpayer-funded and places all of its materials in the public domain (with the exception of those that could be used to make weapons). Even the most conservative way of experimenting with sex in space — and, again, quite a lot of astronauts are married to other astronauts, so you could keep the family-values crowd happy in that way at least — would be likely to cause some pearl-clutching. The entire world seeing it go in, paid for by the American worker? Not going to happen. 

NASA has enough trouble justifying its budget as it is, and whatever else was happening on a mission would be completely overshadowed by the idea that this was the space fuck mission. PR-wise it would be a nightmare. (Not to mention, it’s also not what astronauts train for, and the crossover between “people who wish to be astronauts and successfully dedicate their whole lives to trying to go to space” and “people who want the whole world to see them nut” is presumably slim.)

So private funding is probably the way it’ll work — i.e., space tourists hooking up. Along those lines, my guess is that the first people to have sex in space will be a billionaire aroused mainly by their own perceived greatness and whoever they take along for the ride. It won’t be done in the interests of acquiring knowledge humanity can benefit from or anything like that, it’ll be purely, tragically masturbatory.

Oh, and masturbating in space? Old news. They can’t stop jerkin’!