Human reproduction is necessary for a successful Martian colony, but a new study suggests that conception and child rearing would be complicated and even dangerous.
In a study published in the journal Futures, a team of international scientists demonstrated the medical, social, biological, as well as ethical difficulties of conception and birthing due to Mars's inhospitable environment.
Even if Mars planners can successfully colonize the Red Planet, researchers said it is likely that it will result in a new species of human beings.
"We assume that human reproduction in a Mars settlement will be necessary for the long-term success of an outer space mission. The central issues are how a Martian colony should maintain a balance between reproductive rights and the need for reproduction in the inhospitable Martian environment," the authors wrote.
Studies have shown the detrimental impacts of space environment in the health of healthy astronauts who are subjected to short-term and long-term extraterrestrial missions.
Why Is Sex In Space Risky?
Efforts to explore reproductive processes in plants, animals, and humans have taken a great deal of work in the past decades. NASA's Space Biology program, for example, is aimed to conduct microgravity simulation to understand how the species function and adapt in places outside Earth.
NASA has no rule prohibiting astronauts to engage in sexual activities, although, they are sworn to abide by the code of ethics and to exhibit honorable behavior.
Female astronauts are advised not to get pregnant en route their mission to Mars due to risks posed by radiation. Tore Straume, a radiation physicist at NASA Ames Research Center, said high radiation levels could result in difficult pregnancies.
In his study published in the Journal of Cosmology, Straume and his colleagues reported that even low doses of ionizing radiation could kill oocytes or egg cells in a female fetus during pregnancy.
If the pregnant mother is able to successfully deliver the baby in a Martian environment, experts said a female newborn is most likely sterile due to the damage to her egg cells.
Children conceived in space are likely to suffer from mental retardation and other genetic effects due to the damage to stem cells where sperm cells originate.
Effects On Female Reproduction
Women, in particular, may experience problems with their menstrual cycles due to lack of gravity. American neuropsychologist Rhawn Joseph suggested the possibility of females developing endometriosis as seen in primate models.
"Stress can exert adverse effects on the ovaries and can lead to ovulation failure. Although it appears that short-term spaceflight does not affect the ovaries, the effects of a long duration mission are unknown," Joseph reported.