In the New Scientist:
Sex and romantic entanglements among astronauts could derail missions to Mars and should therefore be studied by NASA, warns a top-level panel of US researchers...
"With the prospect of a very long-term mission, it's hard to ignore the question of sexuality," says Lawrence Palinkas, a medical anthropologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, an author of the report. It reviewed NASA's plans for research to keep astronauts safe and healthy in space – but the plans make no mention of sexual issues in spaceflight.
Palinkas says long-term space missions may be similar to extended periods in the isolated and confined environments of Antarctic research stations. He says crews in those stations often pair up in "bachelor marriages" that last the length of their stay – or less. "If there are instances of sexual conflict or infidelity, that may lead to a breakdown in crew functioning," he told New Scientist.
"Breakups can lead to violence and all kinds of things," agrees Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a psychologist specialising in sexuality and intimacy based in Oakland, California, US, who was not part of the NAS panel. "People are very primitive in their emotions around partnering and sex."
Sexual harassment may also endanger a mission. In an 8-month space station simulation on Earth in 2000, a Russian man twice tried to kiss a Canadian woman researcher just after two other Russians had gotten into a bloody brawl. As a result, locks were installed between the Russian and international crews' compartments.
Palinkas says such problems may be minimised by training astronauts ahead of time in how to deal with stressful situations or by having them speak with psychologists on the ground in group therapy sessions. "You'd deal with it basically the same way you would with any potential crew tension and conflict," he says.
But he says sex may also benefit missions by creating "a sense of stability or normalisation". Ellison agrees, saying sex or masturbation could help alleviate boredom and anxiety on the long, lonely journeys through space.
"It could help or hinder, depending on how many people you've got, their relationship, and what it means to them," she told New Scientist.