The Beginning of Life in Zero Gravity: IVF Incubation for Space Born Babies

SpaceBorn United, a pioneering Dutch startup, has embarked on a groundbreaking mission: conceiving and delivering babies in the challenging environment - no less than outer space.

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space born babies

Illustration: Lenka T.

Visionaries like Elon Musk and other influential figures in the space industry are envisioning a new future. In their vision, Mars should become a thriving home to thousands of humans.  

However, achieving this ambitious goal hinges on establishing a self-sustaining human population on the red planet. The logistical challenges of constantly shuttling individuals from Earth to Mars make it imperative to address the complexities of reproduction in space. 

And the hurdles are manifold. They include issues ranging from radiation exposure to the absence of gravity and essential resources.  

Enter SpaceBorn United, the Netherlands-based startup that has taken up the formidable challenge. Their mission, as stated on their website, is to “research and enable different stages of human reproduction in space, enabling independent human settlements beyond Earth.” 

A striking leap: In-vitro fertilization in space 

Recently, the company made headlines as it unveiled a compact in-vitro fertilization (IVF) device and embryo incubator designed for space deployment. Their CD-ROM-sized prototype uses microfluidic technology to conduct IVF experiments in a space environment. It ingeniously simulates Earth’s gravitational effects by rotating the disc. 

SpaceBorn United intends to commence experiments at the cellular level, beginning with mammalian cells and eventually progressing to human cells in space. These experiments aim to explore critical strategies for facilitating reproduction in the harsh space conditions. 

Egbert Edelbroek, CEO of SpaceBorn United, emphasized the importance of overcoming the reproduction challenge for the sustainability of human settlements on Mars. “If we want to have human settlements, for example, on Mars, and if we want to make those settlements really independent, that requires solving the reproduction challenge,” he stated

The Bold ARTIS Mission: Pioneering reproductive experiments in space 

To achieve their audacious objective, the company is gearing up to launch a series of space-based experiments under the banner of ARTIS, which stands for Assisted Reproductive Technology in Space. These missions are scheduled for launch within the next five years and will commence with experiments involving mouse cells. For these trials, embryos will be implanted into a natural womb, with subsequent pregnancy and delivery phases occurring on Earth. 

Should these missions unfold successfully, the next phase could encompass trials involving human stem cell embryos. The process, as described on their website, involves fertilizing female reproductive cells during their six-day ARTIS missions. Embryos conceived in space will develop under artificial Earth-like gravity conditions for approximately 5-6 days before being cryogenically frozen and returned to Earth for examination.  

These experiments seek to shed light on the optimal gravity levels required for healthy embryo development. 

The long journey ahead: Overcoming complex challenges 

The endeavors of SpaceBorn United are undeniably groundbreaking. Yet, the road to achieving human reproduction in space is a lengthy and complex one. Apart from the considerable scientific and technical challenges, there are ethical considerations as well. International norms restrict human embryo culture to a maximum of 14 days, adding another layer of complexity to this research. 

Furthermore, the challenges associated with human reproduction in space extend beyond the laboratory. Creating enhanced life support systems capable of ensuring a secure and stable environment for pregnant women and babies in space colonies will be essential. 

Any attempts to pioneer this field will necessitate extensive medical testing, simulation studies, and careful deliberation of potential consequences. Ultimately, SpaceBorn United’s journey represents a bold step toward expanding our understanding of human reproduction beyond the bounds of our home planet. 

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