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The Odds Are Against Colonizing Mars


By James Donahue


The presidential directive to send men back to the moon and then on to Mars has stirred thoughts about the possibility of someday colonizing these two dead rocks in our universe.


As our own planet goes through the agonies of global warming, species death and the specter of planet death looms, people are beginning to think about escaping to the stars. But the reality is that leaving our home in space is more difficult and more costly than most people might think.


In a recent interview for NASA’s Astrobiology Magazine, science fiction author Greg Bear put it in perspective when he said: “If we are going to go to Mars I think it’s a cheaper option to fix ourselves up rather than fix Mars up.”


Bear was talking about genetically changing humans to adapt to the harsh Martian environment, but his statement, at least for me, has a double meaning. It is my contention that it is cheaper to fix Earth than go the expense of trying to colonize Mars or any other planet in our solar system.


Our planet is still alive, although sick and dying. All of the other planets in this system are quite dead and inhospitable for humans to visit, let along live.


But we can speculate about “what ifs” until doomsday if we choose. And as an old science fiction fan, I understand the thrill of this kind of thinking. There is a lot of pleasure in working out the statistical puzzles involved with such enterprise and putting it all on paper. Some of the concepts developed by early sci-fi authors have become reality as humans have actually traveled to the moon and built space platforms to circle Earth.


Bear’s thoughts on genetic modification for living on Mars are to the extreme.


“We could generate ourselves so that we don’t need that extra flora, that biota, that occupies our intestines and our skin and everything else, and that way we won’t leak too much when we go there. But that might be a real fantasy. Humans leak – that’s pretty much a universal truth,” he said.


He continued: “I think what we’re going to see is that when we get to Mars in a serious way, we’re going to want to change ourselves . . . so we can walk out on the surface of Mars and climb a rock, naked . . . That’s tough to do when you’re in a NASA suit, but we’ve seen very skinny space suits being designed, and that might be adequate for Mars.”


Bear suggests that the modification needed to walk freely on Mars would involve the development of humanoids with scales, or some other natural covering that keeps moisture locked in our bodies and allows for quick recovery of oxygen.


The author also said he thought it would be more economical for the genetic modifications to occur after we get to Mars. Not only would we need to develop bodies capable of living on Mars, but we need faster propagation. “Then we can multiply in a different form” as Martians.


That sounds somewhat ridiculous since Bear doesn’t allow for survival of the settlers, who appear doomed to spend the remainder of their lives living in those NASA suits, yet trying to figure out how to propagate a new species of human, and care for children designed to live outside the suit.


Another generally unknown and undiscussed problem with sexual reproduction is that we now know that humans cannot reproduce when away from the natural gravity and magnetic influences of Earth. For some reason women need the natural cycles of the moon. Our moon. We don’t know how they will respond to the two Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and the low gravitational pull of the planet. Mars is only about half the size of Earth.


Thus, it is possible that human reproduction will require test-tube manufactured babies instead of natural human fertilization.


This is only a fraction of the problems to be solved if we expect to ever visit and colonize Mars or any other planet in the universe. While we may have the capability of successfully sending humans from here to there, and maybe back again, we lack the means to produce water, oxygen, food and shelter at such a far-off place.


Without supplying these basic necessities, we surely send space travelers off to a sure death on a hostile world.