What Would Happen if You Were Born in Space?
As the human race takes smaller steps towards the stars, we’re probably going to be asking questions about living outside of Earth for extended periods of time. Especially considering that individual people don’t spend all that much time in space to begin with. With the increasing sentiment that the extremely rich want to leave Earth in the wake of climate change, we may have to start asking questions about space civilization in a couple generations. No, we’re not saying super rich people are conspiring in some New World Order to leave all of us plebeians behind, but we do know some very wealthy people have their eyes on space; like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ increasing investments with Blue Origin. So while the human race continues to poke the stars, what would happen if you were born in space?
Living In Space Is Already Hard
Suffice to say that the human body really doesn’t like being in space. Especially without a suit. You won’t like floating around without that big NASA fishbowl suit either, we promise.
But even with a space suit or inside of our nice space habitats, the human body doesn’t do all that well in space either. Heck, the most consecutive days in space we’ve sent a person is like a year and some change (just under 438 days). The average mission on the International Space Station typically hovers around six months.
For starters, there’s no atmosphere or magnetosphere in space–which means you’re getting blasted by more cosmic radiation than the average person from the get go. It’s already likely that radiation from space increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease for those who spend time up with the stars.
That’s not even to mention what you probably thought of first when we brought up space radiation: cancer. We know that getting hit with a minimum of 100 millisieverts (mSv) of ionizing radiation will increase your risk of developing cancers.
How many millisieverts of radiation are you taking on a 6 month trip in the ISS? Somewhere between 50 and 2,000 mSv. That’s comparable to survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in WWII (around 1,000 mSv). That’s not to mention solar flares, which can give fatal doses from the get-go.
What About the Whole Zero-Gravity Thing?
Turns out, the human brain really likes existing at 1G (Earth), and a lot of our physiology depends on it as well. Microgravity can really screw up your inner ear in the short term, since our sense of balance and orientation is largely related to liquid inside your ear.
We also have a lot of liquids inside of us, which are generally kept lower in our bodies thanks to gravity. In space, that’s not the case–which is why our sense of balance gets largely destroyed in space. It can also lead to visual distortions, as well as issues with tasting and smelling things.
General discomfort is temporary though, and we can adapt to loss of balance and resettling liquids after bouts of nausea and vertigo. But some space symptoms can’t be fixed by toughing it out for a bit. Chiefly, those that affect your bones and muscles.
If you thought having bad posture while sitting at a desk all day was bad, try not having to have posture at all. With no weight on your back/leg muscles (as well as the bones), they will atrophy from lack-of-use. But astronaut muscles atrophy faster than you might think–they can lose upwards 20% of their muscle mass in less than 2 weeks. Bone tissue is also lost, anywhere between 1% and 3% of bone tissue is lost per month spent in space. Back on Earth that makes the bones a lot more brittle–in a manner not unlike osteoporosis.
Space Baby Animals
Let’s humor the thought that we’ve solved space childbirth complications (hint: we haven’t). But an unfun fact: there was once a private company that wanted to send a pregnant woman into space for around a day to give birth in space and come right back to Earth. You’re probably not at all surprised to know that they’ve suspended operations as of September 2019. Probably because the top execs were business people–and not too involved with space or medicine.
So let’s assume childbirth in space is possible–which would be a nightmare considering how we could drown in space without pools. Brittle space bones might even make space childbirth impossible without cesarean section. Plus, rats that mated in space in 1979 seemed unable to deliver their pups on Earth.
But in the 1990s, we did have pregnant rats in space giving birth on Earth. The rat pups didn’t have a great time–notably with underdeveloped vestibular systems (the inner ear part that gives us balance). In 2007 we tried it again–and rat pups who spent a week before being born in space couldn’t properly orient themselves when placed in water upside down for a while.
Even jellyfish born in space had orientation issues back on Earth. Fish born in space don’t swim in straight lines.
So we can be pretty sure human space babies would have balance issues.
Without the need for dense bones, space humans would end up with thin, breakable ones. Given how the muscles atrophy when Earth humans go to space, spaceborn humans would be significantly weaker. Remember that fluid thing we mentioned earlier? How our bodies are really used to having fluids pulled down by gravity? Well a lot of that has to do with the heart–which wouldn’t develop the same in space.
Suffice to say it wouldn’t take too many generations before space babies probably couldn’t safely return to Earth.
If we’re thinking about space babies, what would we name them? Try drawing form history here.