Flavin's Corner
2-25-00

The Smell of Space

Where's Boldlygo and why hasn't anyone been there before?
_Common question among the Star Trek-impaired.

     We are poised to explore the final frontier of capitalism: vacations in space!
Mir, the Russian space-station, has been leased to a private investment firm
which will, among other endeavors, offer vacations aboard the space-station to
those wealthy enough to afford the estimated ten to twenty million dollar
ticket-price.  Soon there will be humans two hundred miles above Mom Terra
eating well, drinking hard, and engaging in sex.  The smell of space will never be
the same!

     While the luxury of Kubrick's cinematic envisioning of Clarke's sci-fi novel,
2001: A Space Odyssey, and the imagined shuttle (bearing a Pan Am logo) with
sexy, smartly attired stewardesses will undoubtedly fail to be manifest by next
year, life in space and the potential for fun has greatly improved since the early
space-flights which had an astronaut peeing himself , the mixing of Tang with
fuel-cell water, and environments far short of a 4-star accommodation rating.
Still, one would think for millions of dollars spent on a Mir vacation that they
might fix up the space-station, install a good entertainment system, and a fully
stocked mini-bar.  Including a small bag of those honey-roasted nuts on the trip
up would certainly help!

     Earlier this week the excitement over the possibility of upcoming vacations in
space was tempered and overshadowed by the seemingly coincidental release of
Pierre Kohler's The Final Mission (Calmann-Levy, Paris, 2000), a book which
claims NASA conducted sex-studies in space and cites an alleged document,
"12-571-3570," as proof.  The French news-agency, AFP, released a short
notice of the book's upcoming publication, a British web-rag expanded the piece
and added other rumors of American and Russian sexual experiments in space,
cyber-gossip Matt Drudge provided a hyperlink on his main-page for the British
version, and ...that's when the fun really started!  But, Mir was not completely
forgotten...

     Rumors of sex in space have been around for quite some time and are a
continuing source of speculative titillation for many.  After the Russians sent up
Svetlana Savitskaya aboard Soyuz T-7 with male cosmonauts in 1982, followed
by America's answer a year later with Sally Ride and her male counterparts on
the Challenger, there have been silly allegations of sexual improprieties in space,
as well as government sponsored testing.  NASA and the RKA (the Russian
Space Agency) have repeatedly denied all claims in this area, and as males are
genetically programmed to brag about exceptional sexual encounters, it's highly
doubtful that any of the claims are true.  Even the rumored video of British
astronaut Helen Sharman floating around Mir in a pink nightgown is merely
suggestive and not evidence of orgies two hundred miles above the Earth.
[Note:  a copy of this video, should it actually exist, should immediately be sent
to me for purposes of ...further investigation.]

     Renowned know-it-all, "Wizard of Odd," and syndicated columnist, Ed Zotti
("Cecil Adams"), addressed the rumor of sex in space a few years back and the
column stands as valid today as it was then.  The only possible exceptions to this
concern an accepted definition of sex (and, as a Democrat, I'm willing to open
this to much debate), and if we're discussing only sex between humans.  At the
above hyperlink, Ed ("Cecil") briefly touches upon the subject of masturbation
aboard 1973's Skylab 2 mission, as a NASA doctor is reported to have
suggested it to forestall the possibility of "infected prostate glands that could
lead to urinary tract infections."  As the mission included lots of urine collecting,
taking blood samples, and other procedures not normally associated with erotic
activities, it may be assumed the guys aboard weren't touching themselves to
break the monotony.  And, besides, some don't regard masturbation as sex
(usually Democrats), so the point is moot.  As far as non-human sex in space...

     Early Russian missions carried dogs into space and though some sexual
behavior has been suggested (including one terrible rumor with Ivan Ivanovich),
there's no credible evidence of canine coupling.  The first vertebra mating in
space officially occurred during the July, 1994 flight of the shuttle Columbia,
with an experiment involving fish reproduction (with video available here).  So,
technically, there has been sex in space, though not of the sort that would (or
should) interest most people.

     Apart from rumor, some serious work and speculation has progressed
concerning human sex in space.  "Sex" is usually regarded as a reproductive act,
but many understand and allow sex as non-reproductive behavior which relieves
tension, helps cardiovascular activity, does wonders for uncomfortable social
situations, and is ...just plain fun.  A "space-harness" has been designed to assist
play in low-gravity environments, and while recreational sex in space is only a
matter of time (and money), there have been concerns about reproduction in
space, as conception is fairly straightforward (though recent work on sperm
competition may have to be extended into outer-space), but the birth and raising
of children in space remains problematic.  Humans are accustomed to Earth
gravity, moderate radiation protection, and the effects of space on growth are
still unknown.  These are areas of future investigation that could begin soon, but
will probably wait until most living Republicans have joined that caucus beyond.
[Note: the above hyperlink to a story on sperm competition may require free
registration with The New York Times.]

     The private investment firm which has leased Mir, known as MirCorp (not to
be confused with either the Australian e-zine which promises sex and money, or
the Seattle, WA travel-agency specializing in tours of Central Asia), has pledged
to invest a substantial amount of money to clean up the space station.  Last
Monday, NPR featured an interview with astronaut Jerry Linenger in which he
talked about his time spent aboard Mir, and he didn't have nice things to say
about the ...smell.  Elsewhere, another American astronaut with experience on
Mir, David Wolf, has commented that the loose water is like "pond water."
Other complaints of radiation levels and excessive noise would seem to add to
the unattractiveness of a "vacation," but perhaps these problems could be
overlooked with sufficient quantities of vodka and ...companionship.  I would
imagine some experiences are important enough as to supersede such mundane
matters as the smell of space.

thinking of a trip on LEXX,
Rick

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