The moment has arrived at last. A woman in a hospital gown steels herself, ready to push. A nearby monitor displays her baby’s heart rate in big, neon numbers. A nurse in crisp scrubs coos in her ear, offering words of encouragement, advice. The scene would resemble any other delivery room if it weren’t for the view outside the window: the soft curvature of the blue Earth against the blackness of space, 250 miles below.
Delivering a child in microgravity may sound like science fiction. But for one start-up, it’s the future.
SpaceLife Origin, based in the Netherlands, wants to send a pregnant woman, accompanied by a “trained, world-class medical team,” in a capsule to the space above Earth. The mission would last 24 to 36 hours. Once the woman delivered the child, the capsule would return to the ground. “A carefully prepared and monitored process will reduce all possible risks, similar to Western standards as they exist on Earth for both mother and child,” SpaceLife Origin’s website states. The company has set the year 2024 as the target date for the trip.
The concept raises a host of questions—we’ll get to those later—but perhaps the most immediate may be this: Why?
Egbert Edelbroek, one of the company’s executives, says spacefaring childbirth is part of creating an insurance policy for the human species. Should a catastrophe someday render Earth unlivable—climate change, Edelbroek suspects—he hopes the human species will move off-world and settle elsewhere. Wherever they land, they will plant roots, build homes, and start families.
“Human settlements outside of Earth would be pretty pointless without learning how to reproduce in space,” Edelbroek says.
Fair enough. If human beings someday venture far beyond this planet and land on another—not to visit but to stay—it’s not impossible to imagine that a pregnancy could occur during the journey or on the ground. One can picture toddlers in puffy spacesuits running around on Mars, the oxygen packs on their backs rattling with each leap.