CAMP Talk Out in Space
|by Bill Sievert|
|When flaming pieces of the once mighty Mir Space Station tumbled safely into the South Pacific last month, their splash down marked the end of mankind's first major experiment
in long-term orbital living. The people who had inhabited the station, usually for many months at a time, were able to teach us a great deal about the adaptability of humans to weightlessness and isolation. It now appears that, as they circled the globe, the Russian cosmonautsand perhaps some of their American colleaguesalso picked up a few tricks about the cosmic joy of sex in zero gravity.
For an article in the current issue of the scientific magazine Quest: the History of Spaceflight Quarterly, writer Peter Pesavento interviewed cosmonauts, astronauts and scientists to help bare the secrets of how humans handle themselves sexually during their long, hard missions. And, wouldn't you just know it? Pasavento's research finds that "sexual beings on the ground also will be sexual beings in space."
The Russians, being much less prudish than Americans, have been studying the issue of sex in space since the earliest days of Sputnik. At first, they encouraged animals to cohabitate on their space ships. More recently, they have allowed cosmonauts to take smutty videos and magazines to their ethereal posts. In 1995, a male and female cosmonaut were widely reported to have had the first sexual linking in space, though both denied it when they came down to Earth (and home to their respective significant others).
Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov did acknowledge that a few inflatable friends found their way onto Mir, but he does not recommend them to future space voyagers. "Anyone using such things may develop the so-called 'doll syndrome,' actually preferring them (to human partners) when they return to Earth." I know a number of gay men and women who feel pretty much the same way despite having never left the third rock from the sun.
Our American space program has apparently done some sexual exploration of its ownthough NASA officials don't like to talk about it. In his 1997 book, Living in Space, former NASA consultant G. Harry Stine reported that the neutral buoyancy tank used for astronaut training at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, was also used "both officially and unofficially" to determine whether couples could connect without gravitational pull. It proved "possible but difficult," Stine wrote. It was much easier if a third astronaut was present to assist by holding one of the participants into place, he explained. Eureka! A new format for a threesome was born.
The third person also could help to secure a floating condom, necessary to keep the heavens free from sexually transmitted disease. (Okay, CAMPsafe team, we need volunteers for the International Space Station.) I can just hear the kind of conversation that might take place between passionate astronauts attempting to join the 18-Mile High Club.
"Your body is far out, but did you bring a condom to space, man?"
"Well, of course I did. I had it here a second ago. Oh, there it goesalong with the packet of lube I just tore open. Oops, it's leaking. Can you grab a handful before it oozes into the navigational control panel?"
"Hey, man, I'm having enough trouble steering you in the right direction."
With all the provocative images of space life suggested by the Quest article, it does not probe deeply into the very important history of homosexual expression in the high heavens. Knowing well that gay men and lesbians always have been on the frontiers of sexual adventure, could we have any doubt that some have come out in space? And, with so many all-male crews over the years, certainly there have been a few late-night stag parties after the lights of the TV cameras have been dimmed for the evening.
One veteran astronaut, Alan Bean, had a couple of interesting comments that may or may not pertain to the issue. He told Quest that he believes "an all-male crew is a good way to prevent jealousy" and is preferable to a mixed crew where not everyone is "participating" in the action. Hmmm. Perhaps there have been some major orgies out there.
Bean went on to say, "If some are doing it, you are going to want to. Hey, that fella's got a big smile on his face, and that bugs me (to be left out)."
Well, you know, Alan, from your description it seems that finding a partner in orbit isn't all that much different from a night spent circling the Blue Moon or hovering Cloud 9. Sometimes you'll thank your lucky stars, but you don't always wind up with a big smile.
So, be forewarned. Even if you've got the big bucks to buy a ticket to the new International Space Station, it doesn't mean you'll wind up being star struck. Then again, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, there are "billions and billions" of possibilities if you venture farther out into the universe.
Bill Sievert used to be a year-round resident of Rehoboth Beach. Now, he has ventured farther out into the universe.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 11, No. 3, Apr. 6, 2001.