Fact Check-NASA has not warned male astronauts about masturbating in space

NASA has not issued a warning to male astronauts about the danger of masturbating in space. Some online have misattributed a quote from a comedian in a podcast to a guest on the show who works as a mechanical engineer for a NASA contractor.

Numerous news organizations and public figures have published or shared articles and social media posts which claim the U.S. space agency has told male astronauts not to masturbate in zero gravity or space without alluding to its satirical nature and the fact the comments were not made by NASA.

For example, a New York Post article (here) headlined: ‘Astronauts should not masturbate in zero gravity, NASA scientist says,’ was posted on Facebook (here), where it has been shared more than 500 times.

Similar posts and articles can be seen by the Daily Star (here), (here), the Irish Daily Mirror (here), (here) and UNILAD (here), (here).

Other posts can be found on Facebook (here, here and here) – the last of which was posted by podcaster Joe Rogan and has been shared nearly 2,000 times – and on Twitter (here, here and here), where together they have amassed thousands of shares and likes.

However, the story falsely quotes engineer Smythe Mullikin, who works for a NASA contractor in Houston, Texas, and is not directly employed by the space agency.

The mechanical engineer, appearing on an episode of Conan O’Brien’s ‘Needs a Friend’ podcast (here), told the presenter – along with co-hosts comedian Matt Gourley and author Sona Movsesian – that he works in a team which selects the equipment and goods that are to be taken up to, and returned from, the International Space Station.

An exchange in this episode is where the mix-up stems from. Social media posts are attributing statements to Mullikin that were made by Gourley.

“Smythe… were someone to be watching space porn up on the space station, how does that work?” O’Brien asked at around 5:53.

At this point, Gourley can be clearly heard intervening by replying: “Three female astronauts can be impregnated by the same man on the same session.”

“Because the semen flies around?” O’Brien asked, to which Gourley again interjected, saying: “Uh-huh. And finds its way.” The group then moves on to discuss other items that are taken up to space.

NASA, Mullikin and the podcast’s producers have all been approached for comment.

The claim has been addressed in another fact check (here).


False. Statements about masturbating in space were made by comedians during a podcast and not a NASA engineer.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.