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This is the year the first baby will be born in space

When the , it will be a milestone as momentous as humanity’s first steps . Such a birth would mark the beginning of a for the human species.

For the first half-century of the , only governments launched satellites and people into Earth orbit. No longer. are building a new industry that already has $300 billion in .

I’m a professor of astronomy who has written a and a number of about humanity’s future in space. Today, all activity in space is tethered to the Earth. But I predict that in around 30 years, people will start living in space — and soon after, the first off-Earth baby will be born.

The players in space

Space started as a duopoly as the United States and the Soviet Union vied for supremacy in a geopolitical contest with loud military overtones. But while NASA achieved the Moon landings in 1969, its budget has since . Russia is no longer an economic superpower, and its presence in space is a of the program that launched the first satellite and the first person into orbit.

The new kid on the block is China. After a late start, the Chinese space program is surging, that has recently grown faster than their economy. China is building a , the country has landed probes on the and , and it is planning a . On its current trajectory, China will soon be the .

But the most exciting progress is being made by private space companies that are marketing space for tourism and recreation. Elon Musk’s goal for SpaceX is to carry 100 people at a time to the , although in he is coy about giving a timeline. Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origins, also aims to colonize the . Such grandiose plans have skeptics, but remember that these are the two .

Governments will continue to launch rockets, but it would be safe to say that the future of private space flight arrived in 2016 when, for the first time, launches by all the world’s countries combined.

Living on the Moon or Mars

For a spacecraft, the is about 1,000 times farther than a trip to the Moon, so the Moon will be humanity’s first home away from home.

China is partnering with Russia to build a long-term facility at the Moon’s South Pole sometime . NASA plans to put “boots on the Moon” in 2024 and establish a permanent settlement called the Artemis Base Camp . As part of the Artemis mission, NASA is also planning to launch a lunar space station in 2024 called . NASA is teaming up with SpaceX for this and future lunar projects, and the lunar station will make it easier for SpaceX to resupply the future .

After the Moon comes Mars, and the collaboration between SpaceX and NASA is . are purposeful, but the organization hasn’t given a timeline. Elon Musk, on the other hand, has loudly proclaimed that he intends to have a . Humanity’s attempt to colonize the Moon will give us a good sense of the challenges we might face on Mars.

Sex in space

For a civilization to be really free from Earth, the population needs to grow, and that means babies. Living on the Moon or Mars will be arduous and stressful, so the first inhabitants will probably spend only a few years there at a time and are unlikely to start a family.

But once people do take up permanent residency off-Earth, there are still many unknowns. First, little research has been done on the biology of pregnancy and in space or low-gravity environments like the or .

It’s possible there will be unexpected hazards to the fetus or mother. Second, babies are fragile, and raising them is not easy. The infrastructure of these bases would have to be sophisticated to make some version of normal family life possible, a process that will take decades.

With these uncertainties in mind, it seems likely that the first off-Earth baby will be born much closer to home. A Dutch startup called SpaceLife Origin wants to send a heavily pregnant woman 250 miles up just long enough to . They talk a good story, but the legal, medical, and ethical obstacles are formidable.

Another company, called Orbital Assembly Corporation, plans to open a in orbit in 2027 called the Voyager Station. Current plans show that it would hold 280 guests and 112 crew members, with its spinning-wheel design providing artificial gravity. But the omit any discussion of the of such a project.

However, on April 12, 2021, NASA announced that it is considering allowing a to send a civilian to the International Space Station and film them for 10 days. It’s plausible that this idea could be extended, with a wealthy couple booking a long-term stay for the entire process from conception to birth in orbit.

At the moment, there’s no evidence anyone has had sex in space. But with about 600 people having been in Earth orbit — including one NASA couple who kept their — one space historian was able to gather plenty of Space Age .

My guess is that sometime around 2040, a unique individual will be born. They may carry the citizenship of their parents, or they may be born in a facility operated by a corporation and end up . But I prefer to think of this future person as the first true citizen of the galaxy.

This article was originally published on by from the University of Arizona. Read the .