NASA

Sorry Rep. Gohmert, space travel is going to be pretty gay, whether you like it or not.

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During a long-winded, transphobic speech in the House of Representatives last week, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., decided to take a detour into amateur futurism to justify discrimination. Shortly after declaring transgender people as being "perverse" and having "mental disorders," Gohmert spun the following hypothetical scenario.

I really wonder how many people in this body who had the ultimate power to decide whether humanity would go forward or not, whether it was an asteroid coming, something that would end humanity on earth as dinosaurs were ended at one time. OK, we've got a spaceship that can go as Matt Damon did in the movie. Plant a colony somewhere. We can have humans survive this terrible disaster about to befall. If you could decide what 40 people you put on the spacecraft that would save humanity, how many of them would be same-sex couples? You're wanting to save humankind for posterity, basically a modern-day Noah. You have that ability to be a modern-day Noah. You can preserve life. How many same-sex couples would you take from the animal kingdom and from humans to put on the spacecraft to perpetuate humanity and the wildlife kingdom?

All right, sure. Let's do that! Nope, it's too late to back out now, Rep. Gohmert. You brought this up, so we're going to take this to its logical conclusion.

Let's start out with some assumptions about this apocalyptic scenario: Space travel will need to have reached the point that we can send people into space and keep them alive indefinitely over multiple generations. Any method will do: Permanent space stations, terraforming, the discovery of habitable planets. The details aren't important, let's just assume it's possible (although more support for NASA would certainly help).

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So the Earth is dead because of an asteroid and there are 40 humans left in some sort of space colony responsible for repopulating the species. From Gohmert's suggestion, it sounds like he wants our surviving astronauts to pair off and start making babies right away to get that number up. But there's a problem with that.

The issue comes down from genetic diversity. If you divide your 40 astronauts into 20 male-female couples who will immediately start having children together, in only a few generations you're going to run into medical problems from inbreeding. You should know this, Rep. Gohmert—marrying your cousin is illegal in the giant crater formerly known as Texas.

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In 2002, New Scientist reported on a study on this subject. Anthropologist John Moore calculated that for a 200-year space journey, you would want at least 160 people to maintain a stable, healthy population, with a smaller group of 80 being possible only with strict social engineering.

Since he's a fan of Matt Damon movies, I'm surprised Gohmert didn't consider the solution used in the film Interstellar, where Matthew McConaughey's crew went into space with a payload of frozen embryos as a Plan B in case their mission failed. Again, this speculates scientific breakthroughs we haven't made, but with only 40 people (or four as in the case of Interstellar), you're going to need some way to bring humanity's genetic diversity with you. And at that point, what does the sexual orientation of the astronauts matter?

It might even make things simple if the crew is gay. If this survival of the species long-shot is going to have any chance of succeeding, it will need to be carefully planned in terms of when new children are added so resources aren't strained. Running out of food, water, or oxygen is a death sentence for the species at this point. Two straight astronauts who fall in love could throw a wrench into the situation with an unplanned pregnancy. That's not going to happen with an all-gay crew.

If that idea seems silly, I'd remind you that the only reason we're talking through this scenario is because a Texas congressman wants to use a crazy science-fiction scenario as a cover to legally discriminate against LGBT people. Silly doesn't begin to cover it.