Giving birth to a child isn’t easy. Giving birth to a child in space is… easier? More difficult? It hasn’t actually been done yet, but at the very least we can say it’s certainly more interesting. And so a mission to perform the first human birth in space is currently underway. Netherlands-based startup SpaceBorn United dubbed the project Mission Cradle. With this mission, the company aims to deliver the first-ever space baby by the year 2024. The project aims to determine the impact of microgravity on the human species during the birthing process. Along with two other missions—Mission Ark and Mission Lotus—the startup is keen on discovering procreation methods supportive of the goal of humans to be an interplanetary species.
The company stands by the statement that they have “a carefully prepared and monitored process” aimed at reducing “all possible risks below the existing Western levels on Earth for both mother and child”. The 24- to 36-hour mission will transport a full-term pregnant woman at 250 miles altitude, accompanied by a trained, world-class medical team. After giving birth in space, the team, the mother, and first-ever space baby will travel back to Earth. Aside from the simplified 5-step process summarizing the stages of human birth in space, the website offers little to no explanation as to how the delivery will proceed.
Unsurprisingly, the project is facing enormous physiological and material hurdles—not to mention ethical and regulatory challenges.
Gravity: An Ally at Childbirth
Gravity during childbirth is an expedient ally for women. During labor, the unborn child pushes its head against the mother’s cervix, positions itself at the pelvis, and slides through the birthing canal—all done with the aid of the Earth’s gravitational pull.
For the newborn child outside the womb, gravity is the force that sets the life processes in motion. With the Earth’s pull, the baby’s heart works harder for better blood flow. The infant’s muscles and bones gain mass and density to withstand the force. Also, the body’s vestibular system is stimulated in relation to the environment. The birthing process fine-tunes the infant’s sense of balance and spatial orientation. Clearly, humans need gravity during birth.
The Oddity of Childbirth in Outer Space
Despite the advances in medicine and technology, 300,000 women died due to pregnancy-related causes in the year 2015. Why? Because pregnancy and childbirth in itself are already precarious biological processes. Life-threatening complications, such as uncontrolled bleeding, fluctuating blood pressure and infection, can occur under controlled conditions. Human birth in space introduces a lot of variables. With more variables in the equation, the health risks become higher for both the mother and child.
- As space flight can be grueling and exhausting, astronauts go through intense physical training before their mission. For a heavily pregnant woman going through labor pains, the physical rigors involved during rocket launch might be too much for her to bear.
- With the absence of gravity in space, the mother has to exert more force to push out the child out of the womb.
- Blood circulation is also influenced by gravity. Thus, the heart does not pump hard enough since there’s no need to exert more effort. As a result, limbs and extremities will not receive enough blood supply. For the mother giving birth in space, proper blood circulation is crucial.
- For newborn babies sucking in air for the first time, breathing in the artificial air in space stations may have health implications.
The Impact of Giving Birth in Space on Future Generations
The technological developments in the field of space exploration are steadily accelerating. And human colonization beyond Earth may not be too farfetched after all. In the near future, human birth in space will become the norm. Thus, with pregnancy and childbirth occurring in microgravity, future generations of humans may be anatomically different from Earth-born humans.
Human birth in space leans more toward C-section than a normal delivery. Without the restrictions of the mother’s birth canal, babies born through C-section tend to have larger heads. Similarly, with the absence of gravity, the bone loses its density leading to thinner bones and a smaller body frame. Moreover, exposure to higher levels of radiation in outer space will prompt the skin to develop darker pigments. Ultimately, space-born babies will develop different characteristics to adapt to their environment.
Human Birth in Space —And Beyond!
Learning to adapt to conditions outside of our planet includes ensuring that we will be able to propagate our species. Thus, accomplishing the goal of giving birth in space is a vital factor if humans are going to be an interplanetary race down the road. The possibility of giving birth in space has already been confirmed. Previous space missions have brought pregnant rats, fish, and reptiles, and the experiments on animals were successful. Still, for human birth in space, several barriers need to be resolved. The success of the mission rests upon the resolution of these barriers. Indeed, human birth in space is an exciting concept, but a lot of work still needs to be done.