There is no shortage of projects, candidates and enthusiasm for going to Mars. This old dream of man, which could, according to Elon Musk, come true in 2025. That's almost tomorrow. But the journey to Mars and life on the Red Planet will not be easy. It will be a great leap into the unknown in which human limits, both psychological and physiological, will be tested. Especially since the journey will be a one-way ticket. The return journey is still in the realm of uncertainty. So, will it be necessary to modify the human candidates for the great journey so that they can endure this adventure? That's what some scientists think.
Aes projects to colonize the Red Planet are not lacking. This old human dream seems to be within reach for some, especially since, due to climate change, we may have to find a replacement planet soon. But no matter how close Mars may seem in terms of distance from the galactic universe, we will still have to travel at least 56 million kilometres to reach it; a journey of several months, confined to a space capsule.
Certainly astronaut candidates train hard. They are either locked in domes for a year or sent to the ISS, the International Space Station, for several months. To observe their reactions and behaviour and also to prepare for their training. But all these simulations are nothing compared to the challenges that a colonization of Mars would bring.
In a recent article published in the scientific journal Space PolicyPolish academics, renowned specialists in cognitive science, are abruptly bringing us back to Earth. Konrad Szocik, one of the co-authors, warns: " We cannot simulate the same physical and environmental conditions on Mars, in particular Martian microgravity or exposure to radiation. ». He goes on to say: « Therefore, we cannot predict the physical and biological effects on humans living on Mars... ".
For these scientists, there is no doubt; human beings will not be able to survive long on the Red Planet unless they are modified to adapt them to the Martian environment. In an interview with Gizmodo...the scientist says: " My idea is that the human body and mind are made to live in an earthly environment. Consequently, certain physiological and psychological challenges, both during the journey and on the Red Planet itself, will be insurmountable and will prevent human survival.. »
It is true that extended stays in space are hard on the body. Astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have experienced this. After more than a year aboard the ISS, their bodies are suffering from pain and physiological problems directly caused by their stay in space. These problems are minor compared to what could happen on long, non-return trips to Mars. The authors of the study explain that " these early astronauts realized that after a trip of almost a year, they would have to live on Mars for several years or probably their entire lives because it would be technologically impossible to return. ». Furthermore, the psychological problems they will have to overcome cannot be simulated properly in current ISS missions. Indeed, the morale of long-term astronauts is supported by visits - at least every three months - from newcomers. From Earth, missions are supported psychologically and communication with loved ones, doctors, family is constant. On Mars, this will be made exceedingly difficult because of the distance.
In short, no current simulation could really account for what will happen on Mars. For the authors of the study, the solution is radical: " Permanent solutions with genetic and surgical modifications will have to be implemented.. "Simply put, to get to Mars, we must first transform the human. Transhumanism is not far away and must be, according to the authors, accepted to improve Martian travellers and prepare them for the environments they will have to face. Genetic modifications, selection of the most psychologically fit, the use of biotechnologies, cognitive sciences and nanotechnologies will be the possible recourses to equip humans for their new life in space.
Scientists have already identified the gene LRP5/switching G171V which increases bone density. They're interested in MSTN/IVS1+5GThe genetic mutation that increases muscle mass and physical strength by suppressing myostatin. Others are working on genetic modifications of the inner ear to make astronauts more tolerant to the effects of lack of gravity. Completely innovative solutions could be found using genetic editing systems such as CRSPR.
But it's not just humans that need to be changed. The bacteria we host in our bodies will also suffer from these journeys. Scientists are therefore interested in certain bacteria, such as Deinococcus radioduransa microbe capable of withstanding radiation 7,000 times greater than that which would kill a human. Biologist Mike Wall revealed to space.com that scientists are working on integrating the characteristic genes of this microbe into human DNA to make astronauts insensitive to the negative effects of cosmic rays.
Nanotechnology is also a source of inspiration for those who want to transform humans for space travel. Some nanomaterials are capable of dispense medications to treat bone disease or to regenerate bones. Very useful in space. Other nanomaterials could be used to protect human skin from dangerous radiation. These materials would either be added to the surface as a kind of nanocombination, or integrated into our skin and become part of it. Another solution provided by nanomachinery is the use of respirocytes. They could bring oxygen to the body's tissues in a much more efficient way than our good old red blood cells. What about replacing our lungs?
Ray Kursweil, one of the Popes of Transhumanism, currently a senior executive at Google, also went there from his speculations Nanotechnology could eliminate our need to eat. Tiny molecular machines could be used to deliver nutrients to our cells at will. For this to work, future astronauts would be equipped with a "nutrient belt" loaded with billions of nanobots carrying their cargo of food.
Assuming that these solutions are developed to enable viable travel to Mars, there is still an unknown. What about the reproduction of Martian settlers? It is clear that Earth will not be able to send millions of humans to Mars. The population will therefore be very small among these early settlers and the risks of inbreeding will be high. Eyes then turn to cloning because "natural" procreation will be a high-risk sport. No one is able to predict the effects of cosmic radiation and Martian microgravity on the condition of a pregnant woman and her foetus.
Staying on Mars will certainly not be a vacation. Yet all eyes are on the Red Planet and the deadline for a human presence on Mars is getting closer and closer. Elon Musk even invites you, if you have a few dollars extra, to reserve your place ...on his next spaceship Space X bound for the Red Mountains at the end of the world.