Sexual Reproduction, Childbearing, and Sustainability in Space Part II

According to Australian physician, Dr. Rowena Christiansen, engineering artificial gravity might pave the way to fully research human reproduction safely in space and we may end up with new subspecies of humans who are perfectly evolved to one environment only.

Photograph of an engineer’s journal in his living quarters in space.
“Engineering Sustainability” by Monica Hernandez. Sept 2022.

We’ve reached a golden era in space science and engineering, developing knowledge and machinery to survive the extreme conditions in space. However, there is no sustainable future in space without the ability to reproduce safely. Furthermore, how would you prepare or train individuals to deal with differences in gravity fluctuations if they’ve never experienced Earth’s gravity, for instance? Bringing up new healthy generations beyond Earth’s orbit will be the true test for becoming multi-planetary.

To dig deeper into some of these complexities of becoming a sustainable civilization in space, I’ve started a special series on sexual reproduction and childbearing. The first part of the series showcased specific experiments and research in the United States and Japan with animal and human sperm. This second article features broad perspectives from the Australian physician, Dr. Rowena Christiansen. Christiansen works in aerospace medicine and pre-hospital emergency response. She teaches ‘space health’ at the University of Melbourne Medical School and ‘humans in space’ for the Swinburne University of Technology. She is the founder of the ad astra vita space life sciences project and the International Humans in Space Summit co-founder. Focusing on medicine in extreme environments since 2005, Christiansen has received numerous awards and accolades for her activities and advocacy. The Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) elected Christiansen as a Fellow in 2020. She’s pursued post-graduate medical training in rural and remote emergency medicine, anesthetics, and women and children’s health. Christiansen also holds academic credentials in law, business, humanities, and education. Her longest-standing dream was to become an astronaut. Now she’s set her eyes on becoming a space physician.

What truly piqued my curiosity about Christiansen is her forward-thinking mindset in the space community by raising awareness of these subjects from a unique medical and ethical standpoint. Unfortunately, robust media coverage is scarce, with occasional articles addressing the nuances. I’ve sifted through the noise and the sensationalism, including the abrupt shutdown of the startup SpaceLife Origin amidst medical, ethical, and safety concerns, and the new spinoff’s plans with a similar mission, called SpaceBorn United. So, I wanted to shift the conversation to someone with plenty of medical experience while conducting research and advocacy for space. Given the depth of our discussion, I’ve transcribed our conversation in Q&A format while distilling the most significant ideas.