Space Nookie!

This is ground control to major Tom, you’ve really made the grade ….
This week has seen a series of scientific announcements that might boggle lesser blog readers, but not you. We can start with the Italian scientists who were convicted by an Italian court of, well – nothing really, and sentenced to seven years in prison. This is a great example of what happens when religion and science collide. The court made the assumption that science was magic and that, as magic, it should be able to do the stuff it had seen in the Harry Potter movies. For the record, officially, the scientists were convicted for not being able to do what no one has ever been able to do; predict an earthquake. Not since the Spanish Inquisition have logic and facts taken such a beating.

Meanwhile, while the Italian court system was adhering to the logic espoused by a homophobe in a bedazzled hat, science was finding stuff that could scare the pants off of you. Just in time for Halloween NASA has announced the discovery of the first ever ZOMBIE PLANET!!!

MU HU HA HA HA …. etc.

An enormous alien planet that some astronomers thought was dead and buried has come back to life, a new study suggests.

A new analysis of observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope found that the bright nearby star Fomalhaut does indeed host a huge exoplanet, which scientists dubbed a “zombie” world in an aptly Halloween-themed video on the alien planet. This conclusion contradicts other recent studies, which determined that the so-called planet — known as Fomalhaut b — is actually just a giant dust cloud.


“Given what we know about the behavior of dust and the environment where the planet is located, we think that we’re seeing a planetary object that is completely embedded in dust rather than a free-floating dust cloud,” co-author John Debes, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said in a statement.

Okay, so it’s the perfect zombie, it brings its own mist, it lurks in the shadows and … well, I don’t know if planets eat brains or not.

Probably not.

Of course, while the zombie planet is is a safe distance away, Mars is much closer to home. In fact it’s close enough now that we can make our first visit there a shining example of genocide.

Wait? What?

It seem some scientists are worried about the effect we will have on the local microbes, which, as of this writing, don’t exist.

Humanity has long dreamed of putting boots on Mars, but those boots have the potential to stomp all over any lifeforms that may exist on the Red Planet.

A seething, swarming mass of 100 trillion microbes will accompany every astronaut who lands on Mars. This diverse “microbiome” has evolved with humans for eons and provides a number of services, from helping people digest their food to keeping pathogenic bacteria at bay.

While these microbes are intimately tied to humans, many of them will jump ship if transported to the Martian surface — with unknown consequences for a planet that may or may not host life of its own.

“We have the responsibility to Mars, I think — even if it’s just Martian microbes — not to kill them by the act of detecting them,” Cynthia Phillips of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute said at the SETICon 2 meeting in June in Santa Clara, Calif.

“If you have human astronauts there,” Phillips added, “there’s no way to sterilize them. They’re spewing out thousands of microbes every second. So it’s a real problem.”

Umm, okay, nice way to hit the alarm button with no real facts to back up the panic. As to the effect we would have on an alien world, my guess it would be about the same as when the friendly Spanish came to visit the happy Mayans.

Oh, wait, that resulted in the near extermination of the Mayan race.

Of course, there has to be something complex enough living on Mars to be effected and, so far, such a being has not been found.

So why am I bringing all this up? As I noted before, scientists have been discovering new planets almost every day thanks to the Kelper telescope. And more and more scientists want to go visit some of them. And while isolationists will worry about our polluting the local microbes, real scientists will be worrying about the important stuff like “How can I get laid on an interstellar flight?”

In September of 1992 astronauts Jan Davis and Mark Lee became the first married couple to leave the planet together. But NASA didn’t originally plan on it happening that way.

NASA had an unwritten rule that married astronauts couldn’t be sent into space together. Davis and Lee had been assigned to the mission in 1989 but were later married in January 1991. After the agency learned of their marriage, NASA took two months to review the situation and believed that both were too important to the mission (the second flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour) for either of them to be removed. The couple had no children and NASA explained that if they had, they most certainly wouldn’t have flown together.

Their flight was a minor public relations scandal because of an obvious question that reporters of the time were not shy about asking: would they be having sex in space? The answer from the astronauts and NASA was an unequivocal “no”.

Outside of science fiction, the topic of sex in space has received surprisingly scant attention. But it was science fiction that inspired Dr. Robert S. Richardson to write an article in the March 1956 issue of Sexology: The Magazine of Sex Science, wherein he describes his vision of what sexual relations might look like when space travel is a reality. This was a year and a half before the launch of Sputnik, so the Space Age wasn’t even firing on all thrusters yet. But Dr. Richardson opens his article by discussing his frustration with the fact that sex is never addressed in any of the sci-fi shows on TV. Given the reputation of 1950s broadcasting as a sexless environment — where married couples on programs like I Love Lucy had to sleep in separate beds, and wouldn’t even say the word “pregnant” — Richardson’s surprise comes across as a bit disingenuous. Nonetheless, Richardson makes his case for what he believes the future of sex in space might look like.

From the introduction to the 1956 article:

Recent announcements by the United States and Soviet Governments that they are planning space satellites and space rockets have stimulated universal interest in the problems of space travel. Space voyages to Mars will take a long time, and settlements on the distant plants will be lonely. While much has been written about the various scientific aspects of space travel, this is the first article which deals with the important medical problem: How will the natural sexual needs of early space travelers be met so as to provide a modicum of mental health for the space pioneers?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dr. Richardson’s views on women in space aren’t the most enlightened. He writes under the assumption that only men will be astronauts and that these men will have certain carnal needs to be met during long missions in space. Many of Richardson’s ideas about space, and especially Mars, clearly come from the Collier’s series of articles on space travel from 1952 to 1954. Interestingly, Richardson becomes fixated on Mars throughout the article, ignoring the moon — a place humans wouldn’t even sink their boots until a full 13 years after his article was published.

Richardson compares the establishment of an inevitable Martian base to the experience of military men in remote regions of the Arctic. But unlike relatively short tours in Greenland of a year or less, he acknowledges that a trip to Mars would be an adventure of three years or more.

But can healthy young men work efficiently and harmoniously for long without women ?

Reactions to this question vary widely. There are some who think it outrageous that sex should enter into the question at all. Just forget about the women. Keep busy and you won’t need to worry.

Others recognize sex as a disturbing factor, but feel it is not too serious. In the old days, sailors made long voyages without women and still managed to perform their duties and bring the ship into port. They admit there was sexual over-indulgence soon after the sailors got on shore, but that was only to be expected. The remark heard most often is that the men turn to homosexualism and auto-eroticism during extended voyages.

None of these answers meets the problem squarely. They either side-step the issue or suggest some degrading compromise solution.

Richardson’s solution to the problem of loneliness for astronaut men sailing towards Mars is rather offensive, proposing that women tag along as sex objects with a mission to serve the crew (and take dictation when necessary).

In our expedition to Mars, let our healthy young males take along some healthy young females to serve as their sexual partners. (Of course it would also help if they could operate a radio transmitter and take dictation.) These women would accompany them quite openly for this purpose. There would be no secrecy about this. There would be nothing dishonorable about their assignment. They would be women of the kind we ordinarily speak of as “nice girls.”

“But then they wouldn’t be nice girls any more!” people will object.

Judged by the arbitrary standards of our present social reference system, they certainly would not. But in our new social reference system they would be nice girls. Or rather, the girls would be the same, but our way of thinking about them would be different.

It is possible that ultimately the most important result of space travel will be not what we discover upon the planets, but rather the changes that our widening outlook will effect upon our way of thinking. Will men and women bold enough to venture into space feel that they are still bound by often artificial and outmoded conventions of behavior prevalent upon a planet fifty million miles behind them ? May not men and women upon another world develop a social reference system — shocking as judged by us on earth today — but entirely “moral” according to extra-terrestrial standards?

This last bit of speculation — of proposing that on other planets people may develop their own set of cultural and moral standards by which to judge sexual activity — would certainly be an interesting discussion to have, if it weren’t predicated on the notion that women would necessarily be secretaries and sex objects acting at the pleasure of the all-male astronaut crew.

As far as we know, no one has yet had sex in space. But when they inevitably do, I suspect neither party will need to supplement their astronautic duties by taking dictation.

The Russians have had a co-ed space station for decades and it contains vodka. All that’s missing ins the press release folks. It has happened.

And to make it work they had to resort to velcro straps, restraints and harnesses. In other words, astronuats are super perverts.

God, I do love science!

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG (FOX! Sports) every Friday around 9:10 AM.

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