Well folks, we’re quickly approaching the end, and in short, I’m not sure what more Ms. Roach could cover. Our last two titillating chapters covered two popular pastimes: sleep and sex. Take note, all of you bed-lovers–spending too much time horizontally without exercise or weight-bearing motions will lead to a significant decrease in bone density. We cannot apparently become gelatinous blobs, however. So hooray for good news.
Chapter 11 covered a variety of experiments which attempt to address the issue of bone and muscle loss while in space (or zero gravity situations): from working out on a vibrating plate (which didn’t work) to studying bear hibernation (they emerge from 4-7 months of rest with as much bone density as they had prior to their snooze) to intentionally lifting one’s body up and then dropping it on the ground in an attempt to strengthen weaker bone structures such as the hips. Besides addressing the muscle atrophy and bone loss that astronauts experience, the studies have important implications for the possible prevention of osteoporosis.
And then, we come to sex. Sex in space can be done, albeit, with some finagling. Duct tape, if couples had trouble staying together, was suggested. The rest of the chapter is fun to read, though ridiculous. Since I’m addressing the general public, it seems imprudent to discuss sex in space any further. Sorry to disappoint.
What is interesting, however, are all of the questions raised by reproduction in space. What would happen to the fetus? Would delivery be problematic? The study of pregnant rats who went into space and then came back to Earth for delivery showed weaker contractions, which scientists say could lead to health problems for a newborn. Apparently, contractions stimulate a number of chemical and stress hormones in the child, which help the baby’s system to acclimate to its entirely new environment. Take that away, and the baby may struggle more. Roach notes that studies done on c-section babies (babies born without contractions) have found that those babies have a higher risk for high blood pressure, respiratory issues, and “delayed neurodevelopment.” (245-246)
These questions are never asked or addressed in movies with heavily peopled spaceships, though how often do you actually witness a birth in space? Other, of course, than the famous Aliens scene where baby aliens rupture forth from unsuspecting human stomachs…
Until next week, where we discuss the final chapters of the book, I remain your friendly and morbidly curious co-pilot,