As most are now aware, there’s a new movie out dubbed The Martian. In it space traveler Mark Watney is stranded on the forth planet from the sun and manages to survive by using Macgyver like intelligence to fabricate technological solutions which enable him to hang on until rescue. I’ve not seen the flick yet but am looking forward to it.
In real life though, would a Watney be able to endure? Here’s what the author of the novel has to say about one important aspect of such a mars visit:
“In the book they have this really thin, light, flexible material that blocks all radiation …. There’s nothing even remotely like that in the real world. That was the magic I gave him so the story would progress. Otherwise Mark would have different kinds of cancer.”
As on another post, I worry that people are being conditioned to trivializing our home planet and its human sourced maladies by those who seem to have an almost religious faith in technology to solve dire environmental crisises (versus putting actual limits on our harmful actions) and are ultimately banking their hopes on space travel. By those eager to get off “this rock” as some of them refer to the earth. Such people would seemingly take a dangerous gamble and allow these problems to grow worse if it speeds our hand to the stars.
We owe it to future generations, who will be left with the problems of Earth, to try to find new homes throughout the solar system. Why I signed up for a one-way trip to Mars
Unqualified as I may be to comment, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the only way humans could survive longterm in space and on other planets would be if we were changed into something else, genetically speaking. Something non-human.
What a lot of cosmic dreamers fail to realize is just how dependent on this planet we are physiologically. Every aspect of our biology is an adaptation to some aspect of our environment. Whether it’s gravity, or radiation or any number of things, we are reflections of the world around us. Remove us from that world and the very reason for this or that feature would disappear, and may even become a hinderence elsewhere.
Would our pupils still need their ability to expand and contract on a ship with constant lighting? Would our feet need arches if we walked only on level ground? Would we still need developed muscles on a little or zero-G world? Would we need hair? What about melanin, which protects our skin from the sun (and gives it color)? Even aspects of our brains would likely become useless and wither away. We’d have to become a – and possibly many, depending on the situation – new species entirely. See Effect of Spaceflight on the Human Body. Here’s a personal testimonial: Astronaut Scott Kelly on the devastating effects of a year in space.
So barring some unforeseen magical solution like wormholes to speed our travel or the creation of earth-like space craft and a lucky discovery of very earth-like planets, we’d either have to undergo conscious alteration or it would be imposed upon us by evolution. What might we look like after such modification? My guess is one model would be something like this:
Could we even be called “human” after that? In that case I’d suggest name changes. Perhaps something like Homo terranus for earth bound people and Homo exterranus for those who leave. I develop the idea that such a change will occur in the book.
For those interested, my brother Rod has written a short story titled The Return that serves as a warning about what may be in store for us should we leave the earth.
Once more, though, I want to reiterrate that I am not some technophobic “Luddite” who is opposed to space exploration. On the contrary. And maybe techies will come up with miraculous solutions to everything (I try to never say “never”), but, in our eagerness to move out into space, let’s not abandon the one world that we need no advanced technology to survive in. A world that we’ve adapted to so well. A world still so full of wonder and beauty.
Let’s not forget the admonitions of those who already have gone into space.
For more on this theme see Space or Bust III