Nov 09, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

China to Send Monkeys to Space Station to Have Sex

As far as we know, no humans have ever had sex in space – either while in orbit or while living for an extended period on a space station. As far as we know, no monkeys or apes have ever had sex in space. In fact, the only known animals to have attempted to reproduce in space are worms, Japanese rice fish and mice … and the mice failed to give birth upon returning to Earth. China's space program hopes to change this. After adding the last stage, the Tiangong or Heavenly Palace is now ready to become a different kind of palace – one where two monkeys will attempt to join the 235 Miles High Club. The history of monkeys and apes in space has been far from pleasant for the simians, but China’s space program hopes this will be fun for the monkeys and also beneficial for future close encounters of the sex kind for humans.

Ham - the first chimp to make a suborbital space flight

“These experiments will help improve our understanding of an organism’s adaptation to microgravity and other space environments.”

That is the noble cause of the mission to the missionary position as described to the South China Morning Post by Zhang Lu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the leader of the development of supporting equipment for scientific studies on Tiangong. The experiment, most likely involving rhesus macaque monkeys, will be conducted in Wentian, the space station’s largest module, but it is expected to impact life in all of the modules for the up to six human astronauts sharing the space station with the amorous apes.

“The astronauts will need to feed them and deal with the waste.”

There have been very few space missions with humans and monkeys sharing the same capsule or ship – almost all monkeys have traveled alone (more on some of these missions later) or with one other monkey. As Kehkooi Kee, a professor with the school of medicine at Tsinghua University who led an in-orbit stem cell experiment conducted by Chinese astronauts, points out, there are good reasons why no astronaut is allowed to take pets or companion animals to the space station. In this case, what will they be doing the other approximately 23 hours and 50 minutes per day when they’re not attempting to make space history? Eating, pooping, throwing poop, screaming for more food, repeat. Kee says these experiments will be difficult and messy, but they “will be necessary” as longer missions and eventual colonization projects begin.

“On the ground it is possible to calm a monkey in panic with toys, music or simply letting them mingle with other monkeys. How to take care of the monkeys and keep them happy and comfortable will be a new challenge to the astronauts.”

An anonymous Shanghai-based life scientist experienced with laboratory monkeys says this will help prepare space programs for dealing will humans on long trips in confined spaces as well. And, if there are one day children on missions or even born in space, it will be a challenge to help them through the trip without throwing temper tantrums. Of course, that is putting the cart far ahead of the horse in this initial experiment to induce jungle love in space. Adam Watkins, an associate professor of reproductive and developmental physiology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, explained some of the challenges for astronauts and monkeys.

“Firstly, just staying in close contact with each other under zero gravity is hard. Secondly, as astronauts experience lower blood pressure while in space, maintaining erections and arousal are more problematic than here on Earth. If that’s not enough, then the sheer lack of privacy on shuttles and spacecraft means there are no rooms into which two astronauts can retreat for some time together.”

Previous studies have found that long-term exposure to cosmic rays can damage sperm and eggs, while zero-gravity conditions can damage testicles and other reproductive organs, causing a decline in sex hormone levels and a lack of interest. While the South China Morning Post does not say if Zhang Lu gave a timetable for the first test of turning Tiangong into a heavenly love nest for macaques, the speed at which the Chinese space program assembled the space station suggests it will happen soon.

Let’s hope the end result for the first space sex monkeys is better than the end met by many of their species’ predecessors in space. The most famous of those in the U.S. are the chimpanzees Ham and Enos. Ham was born in 1957 in French Cameroon, captured by animal trappers and eventually purchased by the United States Air Force to be one of 40 chimpanzee flight candidates. On January 31, 1961, Ham made a suborbital trip in a Mercury capsule lasting 16 minutes, 39 seconds. His only physical injury was a bruised nose. Ham lived for 17 years at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and then at the North Carolina Zoo where he died in 1980. Ham was followed by Enos, who became the first and only chimpanzee to orbit the Earth, making the trip on November 29, 1961. Enos died of shigellosis-related dysentery in 1962 at a time the disease was resistant to antibiotics, but scientists claimed it had no relation to his space flight.

Enos - the first and only chimp to orbit the Earth

While Ham and Enos were the first chimps in space, monkeys had been flying for 13 years before them. In June 1948, the U.S. launched a rhesus monkey named Albert to a sub-space altitude of 39 miles (63 kilometers) in a V2 rocket. Albert returned from space dead from suffocation, which may have occurred while he was waiting to be launched. On June 14, 1949, rhesus Albert II reached a sub-orbital altitude of 83 miles (past the Kármán ‘beginning of space’ line of 62 miles or 100 km – higher than the flights of Jeff Bezos’ blue Origin) in a V2 but died when his capsule’s parachute failed to open. On September 16, 1949, crab-eating macaque  Albert III died 35,000 feet when his V2 rocket exploded.  On December 8, 1949, Albert IV flew on the last ‘monkey in a V2’ flight and died in another parachute failure. On September 20, 1951, Albert VI (with 11 mice) reached 44.7 miles in an Aerobee rocket and became the first monkey to survive and land alive. U.S. monkey flights continued through the 1950s and few of the animals survived. After Ham and Enos, the need for monkeys in space diminished. One of the more famous trips was by two squirrel monkeys on the Space Shuttle flight STS-51-B from April 29 to May 6, 1985 – they were not given any opportunities to get ‘intimate’.

Other countries also sent monkeys into space. The Soviet Union/Russia space program used  rhesus macaques and claimed all but one survived six missions. Argentina was one-for-two in suborbital monkey launches in 1969-70, which France sent two pig-tailed macaques suborbital in 1967. Iran reportedly sent two moneys into space separately in 2013. And China’s secret space program allegedly sent a monkey, a dog, and a rabbit into space on January 9, 2001 – a mission that was rumored to have ended with a fatal parachute malfunction.

If monkeys could read about these past missions, they would not be enthused about making another trip into space – even with the promise of unlimited sex. Of course, these missions are not voluntary, so reading wouldn’t make much difference. With the amount of media coverage China’s space program is getting – both mainstream and social – it is likely they will take great care in making sure this monkey sex in space experiment is successful.

Will humans be next? Or has sex in space happened already?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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