Sex in Space: A Brief History of Newts and Geckos

Russian lizards and memories of Gingrich.
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Gecko. (Photo: nico99/Shutterstock)

Gecko. (Photo: nico99/Shutterstock)

Joining the mile-high club (i.e., penetrative sex in a commercial airplane) is hard enough—the close quarters, the folded bodies, the hair-trigger soap dispensers in the bathroom where such feats are usually accomplished. But here, at least, you have the privilege of a pressurized cabin, one that is gravitationally familiar and rich in oxygen. You couldn't pull that sort of thing in space, at least not on an official mission (too many colleagues; too many cameras) and not without special equipment (cinch-straps, padded rooms, DJ Danger's remix of “Space Oddity”). At the close of Moonraker, Roger Moore's James Bond celebrates having saved the world by enfolding his lady-sidekick in a zero-gravity carnal embrace. “My God, what is Bond doing?!” asks Sir Frederick. Q responds, “I think he’s attempting re-entry sir.”

The key word here is “attempting.”

Moonraker hit cinemas in 1979. Five years later, Newt Gingrich published Window of Opportunity: A Blueprint for the Future, stretches of which offer a program for outer-space social engineering, inspired in part by the work of futurist writer Alvin Toffler. In 1996, Gingrich returned to Tofflerian ideals of space-sex in To Renew America, predicting that by 2020 American couples will have unlocked the mysteries of Extraterrestrial Eros:

I believe space tourism will be a common fact of life during the adulthood of children born this year, that honeymoons in space will be the vogue by 2020. Imagine weightlessness and its effects and you will understand some of the attractions.

I remember these proposals vividly—both because my mother tried to keep the book reviews out of my middle-grade hands, and because of Al Franken's rebuttal that same year, full of empathy for fumbling first-time lovers: “Gravity is an important, maybe even necessary, element in the physics of marital union,” Franken notes, and continues:

Imagine for a moment that you are a bashful young groom, exhausted not just from weeks of preparation and the wedding itself, but from the stress of the massive G-forces exerted on your body during liftoff. It's been a long day.

Now, finally alone in the honeymoon suite of the space station, you and your bride prepare to consummate your marriage. As you offer her a tube of complimentary space champagne, she floats away. As you try to unzip her space suit, she floats away. As you attempt to find the switch for the artificial fireplace, once again, she floats away.

You can see the problem. Franken's tableau is like some outrageous silent sequence from Woody Allen's Sleeper(1979). To renew America, evidently, we must risk life and dignity in order to populate the superlunary realms.

Yet even as 2020 approaches—the year by which space honeymoons would be “vogue,” according to Gingrich—it's no wonder we're sending lizards to do our nasty business up there.

If you haven't been getting Google alerts for “high-altitude reptile sex,” some context: In the last two weeks, Russia nearly knocked Ukraine off the front page, as a Roscosmos Foton-M4 satellite carrying five sexy geckos (plus certain flora and non-precious metals) lost contact with mission control on July 24. Headlines in the immediate aftermath included “Russia Loses Control of Five-Gecko Sex Party in Space” (Geek.com), then “Lust in Space” (Al Jazeera), then (the good news) “Control Restored to Beleaguered Sex Gecko Satellite” (ArsTechnica), and finally “The Space-Sex Geckos Are OK!” (Daily Mail). Michael Wolff's Newser took its own lunging stab at humor: “Five lust-filled lizards hurled into the heavens to get lucky in the name of science are now in peril.”

Basically it's been a couple of good weeks for headlines—and for the geckos. According to Agence France Presse and the Huffington Post, even during Russia's temporary loss of navigational control, communications remained intact:

In the meantime, the space agency says it's able to receive data from the satellite, and so far the four females and one male have been busy with their "work."

"The equipment which is working in automatic mode, and in particular the experiment with the geckos is working according to the program," Oleg Voloshin, a spokesman of Russia's Institute of Medico-Biological Problems, told Agence France-Presse.

Scientists have even been able to watch videos of the geckos doing it lizard-style in space, according to Al Jazeera. However, they're hoping to recover all of the creatures alive at the end of the 60-day experiment to gather more data.

On Earth, we trust geckos as low-maintenance pets for children, or as spokescreatures for car insurance, but they have not always been considered sexual pioneers—though the hermaphroditic potential of certain geckos makes them fascinating candidates. Now, Russian-raised geckos are going to town on each other while researchers, who still hope to glean intel re: the effects of weightlessness on reptilian coitus, watch in rapture. And they say the mystique of space is dead.

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