Living on another has become more than a Sci-Fi movie scenario or a subject for a novel. It has become a possibility that scientists are working on it. And the US Congress is pushing NASA to make it a probability.
The best chance for this scenario to become reality seems to be Mars. Jupiter’s moon Europa is also taken into consideration. But the distance between visiting Mars and living on Mars proves to be a matter of ethics. To survive the conditions on Mars in the long run, humans must agree to genetic “improvements”.
There is no place in the Universe as Earth. At least none that we know of. Life as we know it needs the unique conditions that only Earth has to offer. Humans can’t survive on any of the two options mainly because of fatal radiations and microgravity. The ice sheet on moon Europa can’t compensate for the killing radiation expelled by Jupiter.
The solution to counterattack Mars’ hostility seems to be the modifying of human genetics. Scientists are already working on the possibility. They are modifying human cells in the lab by inserting tardigrades’ genes into them.
Tardigrades, aka water bears or moss piglets, are micro-animals known as one of the most resilient life forms on Earth. They resist to extreme pressures, temperatures, air deprivation, toxins, dehydration, starvation, and the most important for the subject: radiations.
They are the famous animals that can survive the space vacuum. And it looks like the cells inserted with the tardigrade gene became more resilient too.
The solution isn’t good enough for Europa though. Nothing can be done to protect the human body from being “almost completely fried by the amount of radiation,” as Christopher Mason put it. He is a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medicine, the medical school of Cornell University in New York City.
On the other hand, scientists consider that Mars too should go through some changes it is going to host life. Synthetic biology has something for the red planet: designer microbes that can create a life-friendly footprint.
Changing the blueprint of a planet before knowing if it hosted life, or if it still does is a matter of morality too. Searching whether there is life someplace else other than Earth is a scientific goal.
“And how can we do that if we go and change the planet before we go and find out if life actually was living there?” asks Kennda Lynch, an astrobiologist and geomicrobiologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
When does life stop being life?
The criticism is inevitable. All of the above sounds too much like playing God. Why are we searching for a new planet to host us? Is the goal to preserve life and to find a place where humans can find shelter in case of extinction?
Or is it all just a pretense to cover for the dark side of science? We didn’t find alien life so we might as well create it ourselves? Is a human still human when he has tardigrades genes? At what point does human stop being human?