Born in space in 2028
07 June 2019
SpaceBorn United is determined to become the first company that will enable childbirth in space by 2028. Says CEO & Founder, Dr. Egbert Edelbroek: “It is not going to be an easy journey. Space is a hostile environment for living organisms.”
SpaceBorn United is a biotech and space mission development company. Through its project ‘Spacelife Origin’, it wants to contribute to the learning process of human reproduction in space. Currently, when humans are exposed to the many challenges of space, it leaves them unable to reproduce.
How will you achieve your goal?
“We have developed a three-mission strategy: Mission Ark, Mission Lotus and Mission Cradle. With Mission Ark human sperm cells, egg cells and early embryos will be stored in a safe place in space, like Noah’s Ark. The Ark is onboard an independent satellite around earth and onboard a manned space station. This mission provides us with easy access to the cell samples. We can research them and their behaviour in space for a long period of time.
With mission Lotus, consequently, we aim to enable human conception in space for the first time. The fertilisation process will be monitored. Different from Mission Ark, Mission Lotus is fairly short with only five days. Space is a hostile environment for human cells. With this mission we can pinpoint and research the challenges that arise. A longer-term ambition is Mission Cradle. This mission aims to enable the first child to be born outside of planet earth. In 2028, if all goes according to plan, a highly pregnant lady will deliver her child in space.”
What parties/organisations are supporting you on this journey?
“We could not have done this without the support of many experts in the medical, ethical, technical and legal field. And we are supported by specialised companies in the space industry and medical sector, universities and space research centres.”
How is the first mission, Mission Ark, coming along?
“The feasibility studies are completed. Currently, we are talking to the company that can and wants to make the prototype of the Ark. As soon as we get the funding completed, we can make and test this prototype. In less than two years, we should be able to launch the Ark.”
What are your biggest challenges in this project?
“As I mentioned before, space is a hostile environment for living organisms. Therefore, we have to address many challenges. Firstly, space has different potent radiations. Exposure to high levels of radiation will lead to DNA damage. Furthermore, when orbiting around earth, you are in a micro gravity environment. In addition, there will be gravity peaks during launch from earth and during re-entry. This makes safe delivery in space very challenging and requires adequate solutions. With recent developments, for example Sierra Nevada Corporations Dream Chaser spacecraft, we could be able to diminish their effect on woman and child. Lastly, regarding mission Ark and Lotus, the temperature levels in space, in general fairly low, differ greatly, due to infrared light from the sun. All these factors can negatively affect healthy embryo development and an unborn and recently born child. We will design or make use of existing life support systems to protect cells against these hazards.”
How do you think you will solve or, at least, limit these risks?
“One of the easier methods is natural selection. Some people are more resistant against radiation than others by nature. You can also test this on earth by taking cells from humans and expose them to similar radiation levels as in space. Based on this, you can decide who to send to space and who not. Additionally, recent research shows that using pharmaceuticals and food supplements enhances the cells radiation resistance. They do not only prevent damage from happening, but also enhance the cells natural repair mechanisms, just as lifestyle adjustments do.”
What was your biggest breakthrough until now?
“Undoubtedly, receiving support from Dr. Alexander Layendecker. He is a world-renowned expert on the subject of human reproduction in space. His final contribution was a scientific roadmap on the subject. He was sent from the international space tourism board to check on our operations. He was really satisfied with our approach in our project. It turned out that we were following his roadmap without ever having seen it. Getting a green light from an expert of this level, and the fact that he wanted to be our advisor, was the biggest breakthrough until now in our experiment.”
When did your interest in space start?
“I got into space when I was a small kid, around the age of six or seven, when I saw the tv show of Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels. The subjects he talked about inspired me immensely. Later on, I got fascinated with the idea of humankind becoming a multi planetary species. Many years later, when I decided to become a donor myself for couples with fertility problems or same sex couples, I learned a lot about ART: assistant reproductive technologies, such as IVF, and the equipment that they use for these technologies, specifically the Embryo incubator. That is a life support system used for embryo selection. My interest in space, especially space exploration, combined with this technology and my concern for the environment, made me realise that we should put a serious effort into accelerating the existing research towards human reproduction in space. The continuous support from scientists and researchers led me to start SpaceBorn United.”
Why is this research important?
“Several reasons. Firstly, this research embodies a plan B for humanity. The way we are exhausting the earth now, we are heading towards our extinction. Having the possibility to live sustainably on another planet, could then be our exit. Additionally, this can also create a lot of unexpected spin off that is invaluable for our life on earth.
One example is asteroid mining. Harvesting resources from earth irrevocably damages the environment. By utilising asteroid mining, we could prevent a significant amount of pollution and produce more environmentally friendly. At this point, I think most people hardly experience the negative effects of our polluting ways. Only when that changes enough, we will use much more of our expertise and resources to fix it. And that is a shame, because preventing a problem like this is so much cheaper and easier that solving it.”
What sets you apart from NASA, ESA or SpaceX?
“We are smaller and more focused to one research objective. We do not have all the political and economic constraints that NASA, ESA or commercial parties face. There are risks and reputation issues involved. This is a very controversial topic with legitimate concerns. Especially, governmental space agencies have to be careful, because they are using tax payers money. That also makes it difficult to get support to assign large budgets to long term projects. And they are focusing on logistics, taking humans from a to b. Essentially, they are making space taxis. Reproduction in space is much more about life sciences, which is a very small part of NASA’s focus. As a small and independent company, we took up the challenge.”
In the first round of investments, you were able to gather 500.000 euro. You said that your next goal was to secure 4 million. Is that realistic?
“Yes, step by step. We are receiving grants and research funding and have interested investors. Currently, for our Lotus Mission, we are looking for potential suppliers of ‘earth’ embryo incubators, who can help us reengineer their product for space utilisation.”
Finally, would you go to space to save humanity?
“I would love to, but not for ten years. Unfortunately, there is not a good reason for me to go to space, that would legitimize the huge costs. And to be honest, I am quite attached to earth.”
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