This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on April 23, 2012
In our post on meat production in outer space we briefly addressed the problem of transporting herds of animals from Earth to Space colonies. Transporting small animals like dogs and cats, will not a big deal. But larger animals like cattle or horses are much more difficult. The primary problem is with mass, launching a certain mass of payload from the surface of the Earth, cost much more mass of fuel, see Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation. This equation tells us that it will be almost impossible to launch an elephant from Earth to Space colony. Recall that from an orbit around our blue planet to the Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system, will only take a little amount of energy and propellant mass.
If we want to bring animals to Space colonies, we should take as little as possible. In theory we should take only a couple, one male and one female, and then breed from them as many as necessary. But there is one big problem with this approach: inbreeding. In order to reduce the negative effects of inbreeding we should increase the number of transported animals, and so increasing transportation costs. There is a simple solution for these dilemma: nowadays sperm and eggs (female gametes) can easily be stored. And by this method a relatively small space craft can transport a large collection of genetic information of several species and multiple individuals of each species. When this cargo of sperm and eggs arrives at the Space colony, scientists can create new embryos by using in vitro fertilization.
You may argue that even if we create embryos we will still need some female of each specie. This is true to a certain degree, yes we need a womb, but this doesn’t need to be one of the same species. Currently scientists are researching interspecific pregnancy, this made it possible to implant, say a horse embryo, into a cow. A potential problem with this technology is as follows: a certain female animal may carry only a young with a smaller than a certain size, for example: a domestic cat cannot give birth to a bovine calf. But even this problem is possibly to solve. We can imagine that some small animal A gives birth to little bigger (at adulthood) animal B, which on her turn can give birth to an ever bigger (at adulthood) animal, etcetera. Of course this procedure will take some time, but it is possibly our only option.
A technologically more advanced solution will be the use of artificial wombs. In theory these can be made of any size, and will allow us even to breed elephants in Outer Space. However, currently is this technology not fully developed, so at this moment interspecific pregnancy is our best option. But if reproductive technology advances artificial wombs will provide us an ideal solution.