Space: the Final Sexual Frontier

Orbital intercourse will most likely involve interlocking garments, anchoring Velcro straps and a great deal of awkwardness. Just go ahead and forget anything you saw in "Barbarella."

Camerique/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Space experiments often win the prize for weird, from blasting doomed chimps into orbit to rewarding weightless, web-spinning spiders with filet mignon dinners. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the crème de la crème of pulp science-fiction fantasies: space sex.

In 2000, French astronomer Pierre Kohler made headlines when he claimed in his book "The Last Mission" that NASA studied the feasibility of ten low-gravity sex positions during a 1996 space shuttle mission (NASA vehemently denies this). Not to be undone, the Russians allegedly carried out experiments related to "human docking procedures" as well [source: Shipman].

Experiments concerning the effects of space on the human reproductive system are nothing new. After all, if you set aside all the cultural baggage, sexual reproduction is a central process. In the early days of space exploration, there was even uncertainty on how a trip into orbit might affect a human's ability to procreate.

Soviet scientists paid especially close attention to cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova's 1964 pregnancy. After returning from orbit, Tereshkova married fellow cosmonaut Andreyan Nikolayev and soon became pregnant with the world's first child born of two veterans of space flight. The couple's daughter turned out perfectly healthy, but the case was largely uncharted territory in the growing field of space medicine. The timeliness of the parentage even led some to question whether the union might have been arranged -- a science experiment in itself [source: O'Neill].

As for the future of space sex, proponents say it's just a matter of time and that it would be unrealistic (and possibly unhealthy) to forbid sexual activity aboard multiyear manned missions.