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Startup’s plan to deliver baby in space halted over ‘serious ethical, safety and medical concerns’

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SpaceLife Origin’s CEO has paused operations, saying the plan was ‘unrealistic’

Netherlands-based startup SpaceLife Origin’s mission to become the “first company that will make human reproduction in space safely possible” has been put on pause. CEO Kees Mulder says serious “ethical, safety and medical concerns” with two of SpaceLife Origin’s planned missions have caused him to pull back and reevaluate the idea, which was announced in October. He also says the time frame and business model for those missions are “not realistic,” and tells The Verge the company is “on hold.”

Mulder’s statements were posted to SpaceLife Origin’s website on June 20th, 2019, and they have replaced all other content on the website. Mulder also wrote that, “due to a serious and unrepairable breach of trust,” he has “ended [his] relationship” with SpaceLife Origin co-founder Egbert Edelbroek. He did not explain the alleged breach of trust.

Edelbroek did not respond to a request for comment. Mulder declined to elaborate on his public statements. “My legal team advises me to refrain from doing so in light of my possible future legal proceedings against a certain person,” he told The Verge.

At least two other employees, including SpaceLife Origin’s head of design, have also left the company, according to their LinkedIn profiles. They did not return requests for comment.

SpaceLife Origin CEO Kees Mulder’s statement on the company’s website.

SpaceLife Origin planned to achieve human reproduction in space through a process that involved three discrete “missions.” The first, called Mission Ark, would send sperm and eggs into low Earth orbit inside small spherical satellites to prove they could be preserved in the harsh environment of space. The company planned to offer customers “[r]eal-time tracking and footage from cameras on board” the satellites that would allow them to “view and show their ‘seeds-of-life’ cells in orbit.” SpaceLife Origin wanted to charge between $30,000 and $125,000 per test tube when the mission started in 2020, though the company said it would offer some to nonprofits “to increase the ethnic diversity balance.”

The second mission, Mission Lotus, was all about conceiving a child in space by sending reproductive cells to orbit in what SpaceLife Origin called a “Space-Embryo-Incubator.” After four days, the embryos would come back to Earth to be implanted in their mothers for birth. This was supposed to happen in 2021 and had a price tag ranging between $250,000 and $5 million.

The third mission, dubbed Mission Cradle, would have launched in 2024 and would involve a pregnant woman giving birth in space for the first time in history. The company had said the mission would last 24 to 36 hours and that the woman would be “accompanied by a trained, world-class medical team.”

Edelbroek said it would be “a small step for a baby, but a giant baby-step for mankind” in the original announcement, which was met with heavy skepticism from medical experts.

Mulder wrote in his statement on SpaceLife Origin’s website that the “[s]erious ethical, safety and medical concerns related to Missions Lotus & Cradle are preventing me personally any longer from accepting any associations with and responsibilities for those two specific Missions involving ‘embryos, pregnant women and baby’s in space’.”

“In short,” he continues, “‘[b]etter safe than sorry’ so I need to distance myself from these missions.”

Mulder said he ultimately decided the timelines SpaceLife Origin promoted for the missions and the company’s business model were not realistic. “Adequate long term funding would be — again in my opinion — challenging to obtain given all these insights and moreover risky for investors due to the unproven and uncertain ROI plan/projections,” he wrote on the company’s website.

Mulder also said he will announce new “space related plans” and a “new company structure” in the third quarter this year. “Stay tuned but NOT pregnant women or baby’s due to reasons given,” he told The Verge.

On his LinkedIn profile, he issued a warning that he will “hold & strongly protect all [his] contractual ownership, my marketing & IP legal rights” in SpaceLife Origin, and says he already plans to take action against an undisclosed party. “Legal proceedings initiated by me versus infringements are very likely in due time.”