NASA sends human sperm to the ISS via Musk's Falcon 9 rocket

Scientists aim to check how samples could react in low gravity.
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NASA has sent frozen human and bull sperm to the ISS on board Elon Musk's Falcon 9 rocket.

NASA has sent frozen human and bull sperm to the ISS on board Elon Musk's Falcon 9 rocket.

NASA has practically tested everything in space, right from growing leafy green in Zero-G to space tourism and even trips to Mars. But now the US space agency is studying the feasibility of human reproduction in space and has sent frozen human and bull sperm to the International Space Station (ISS) on board Elon Musk's Falcon 9 rocket.

The mission managed by NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California’s Silicon Valley and labelled Micro-11, technically began on April 1, aims to test what happens when frozen sperm are exposed to anti-gravity, Inverse magazine reported.  “Based on previous experiments, it seems the lack of gravity facilitates sperm mobility,” Fathi Karouia, lead scientist for NASA’s space biology project, was quoted as saying to Inverse.

Bovine sperm viewed under a microscope. The sperm cells have been stained with fluorescent probes so that researchers can determine if the acrosome reaction (which helps prepare sperm cells for fertilisation of an egg) has occurred in each cell.

Bovine sperm viewed under a microscope. The sperm cells have been stained with fluorescent probes so that researchers can determine if the acrosome reaction (which helps prepare sperm cells for fertilisation of an egg) has occurred in each cell.

The astronauts aboard the ISS will thaw and chemically activate the samples to fertilise an egg. Researchers will use video to assess how well the space sperm move. Finally, the samples will be mixed with preservatives and returned to Earth, where they’ll be analysed to see whether the steps necessary for fusion occurred and whether the samples from space differ from sperm samples activated on the ground, NASA noted.

“This is in line with other investigations on different model organisms which have shown that microgravity conditions trigger faster cell regeneration. “This flight project is the first to apply proven analytical methods to assess the fertility of human and bovine sperm in spaceflight,” Karouia said. The experiment could also offer new insights into the ways long-duration spaceflight will influence human reproduction.

Though this is not the first time sperm has been sent into space for testing, it could offer new insights into the ways long-duration spaceflight will influence human reproduction. “This research is looking at early fundamental microgravity science,” the report said. Previously several species, including frogs, salamanders, sea urchins, jellyfish, snails, medaka fish and other aquatic invertebrate animals, have successfully undergone breeding in space.

“We don’t know yet how long-duration spaceflight affects human reproductive health, and this investigation would be the first step in understanding the potential viability of reproduction in reduced-gravity conditions,” NASA said in a statement.