Chinese satellite proves reproduction still works in space

Chinese satellite proves reproduction still works in space

By Ryan Whitwam Apr. 18, 2016

Chinese satellite proves reproduction still works in space

As creatures that evolved in the gravitational influence of Earth, there has always been concern about how well we would adapt to life in space. At first, scientists weren’t even sure humans would be able to eat and absorb nutrients in microgravity. Luckily, that turned out fine, but what about longer term concerns? What about reproduction in space? A Chinese satellite has just produced some important data that indicates human reproduction could occur in space.

The SJ-10 satellite doesn’t have any humans or even animals on board, but it does have lots of cells. Scientists loaded the satellite with more than 6,000 mouse embryos and watched remotely for seven days as the satellite sent back microscopic images of the cells. The goal was to learn if these embryos would go through the early stages of maturation while in orbit, and sure enough, they did. The cells went from the 2-cell stage to more differentiated blastocysts. The development was in-line with what would be expected on Earth.

Early embryo development is crucial for human reproduction in space. It may be possible one day to build artificial wombs that allow embryos to grow, but that would be a moot point if microgravity fouled up the early stages of development. It’s still unclear how gestation would proceed — there are still many unanswered questions there. And of course, these are mouse embryos not human. However, there are few differences in the early embryonic stages.

Scientists hope to gain a better understanding of reproduction in space from first hand examination of the cells. SJ-10 (launched April 6) was only a seven-day mission, and was designed to return the cells to Earth. That capsule was successfully recovered in northern China earlier today and will be transported back to Beijing for study.

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