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The Straight Dope

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Cute introductions be damned. Has anyone ever had sex in space? Go ahead, tell me the NASA folks themselves never wanted to know what it would be like, or whether it would even be possible.

According to my 1995 copy of The World Almanac, U.S. shuttle crews have enjoyed mixed company since 1983, and a married couple flew on Endeavor's September 1992 mission. The almanac also shows--and I'm not suggesting anything--that the human race has been launching at least two at a time since 1964.

How many weeks cooped up in a spacecraft can anyone take before boredom, isolation, stress, and la difference set in? (Oops--pardon my heterocentrism.) Heck, it wouldn't surprise me if astronauts did it strictly out of scientific curiosity.

I suppose a less scrupulous inquirer, in an attempt to bolster popular belief in clandestine space boffs, might point out that a U.S. senator and a U.S. congressman have flown shuttle missions. Rest assured I would never stoop so low.

Please tell me our space program is still a pioneer of science, paving our way toward a happy life among the stars. I know long-term space travel isn't exactly around the corner, but don't we want to know whether future space workers will be able to have normal or near-normal existences during long stretches in free fall? Is there any reason to believe zero G would hinder reproduction? I mean, if sperm couldn't tell up from down...

So anyway, Cecil, has one of our finest chuckled and said, "The things I do for my country?"

--Bill St. John, Wahiawa, Hawaii

You know, caller ID is starting to be a real hindrance in my line of work. I don't know for a fact that they have a sign taped by the NASA switchboard saying, "No calls from C. Adams. Nut." But it does seem like it takes a lot longer than it used to for them to pick up the phone.

Be that as it may, we did succeed in speaking to Mike. At a loss for a subtle way to broach the topic, we pretty much blurted it out.

There was a pause. "Not in the U.S. program," said Mike at last. "It's highly unlikely it would even be attempted in the space shuttle. You have five to seven astronauts on a mission. You can't turn around without bumping into someone."

Wouldn't stop some people I know. Still, this was what I expected to hear. Then Mike made a strategic error. "The astronauts are considered to be on duty 24 hours a day," he said. "I don't think they would think of such an activity as professional."

Professional! C'mon, Mike, I read The Right Stuff. These guys were test pilots! At age 19 they were buzzing the tower! Most of them would consider it their solemn duty to, you know, push the envelope. I mean, how would you guys on the ground know? It's not like they'd leave the electrodes on.

Mike didn't have a good answer for this. He also declined to venture an opinion about what those wacky Russkies had been up to. On the question of whether deep-space sex was even possible, he was agnostic. "There's so much about microgravity we don't know," he said. "They have trouble maintaining plant growth..."

But Mike, that's just it! I said. It's our scientific duty to advance the frontiers of knowledge! (The same general line of BS occurs to everyone who raises this issue.)

"Sounds like you're volunteering," Mike said.

Mike, I said, you send me up, I'll do my best for my country. I'd even bring my own Lava Lamp. (I love this job, I really do.) Then I hung up. I figured my FBI file was fat enough already.

So, not the most definitive answer I ever gave. I mean, to be blunt, who said you needed two people for sex? But there are limits to what even Cecil can hope to know.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Cecil Adams.

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