Humans May Not Be Able to Reproduce on Mars, Study Says
If you're planning on hitching a ride on a Falcon 9 and starting a new life on a Martian colony growing potatoes, we have some bad news: not only are the conditions on Mars incredibly deadly, but they may stop humans from successfully conceiving children. It turns out that having space babies is a lot more complicated than having Earth babies, and if we don't plan ahead, our colonies may not be able to sustain themselves with new generations of tiny Martian adventurers.
According to Konrad Szocik, the author of a new study published in Futures, the chief reason Mars is so hostile to having kids is that it's thin atmosphere doesn't soak up a lot of the radiation that Earth does, including cosmic radiation and magnetism.
There's so much radiation pouring onto Mars' surface that it may interfere with the process of fertilization, as well as the development of the fetus. On top of that, microgravity may mess with the baby too.
Hanging out in low-gravity environments for long periods of time can cause dramatic muscle atrophy for healthy, extremely fit astronauts; just imagine the impact on a generation of children who live and grow in low gravity.
Then there's the practical issues that come with raising every child: keeping them healthy and keeping the parents sane.
"Another important factor will be the high rate of stress and hard psychological conditions in general. Another factor may be a diet that can be insufficient to provide appropriate ingredients."
In many ways, living on Mars is going to be like living on the bottom of the ocean: everything outside your enclosure is trying to kill you, and supplies will be limited to what can be shipped to you. All in all, Szocik thinks raising a child will be a "titanic challenge" for any Martian colonist.
Which is why Szocik proposes two potential solutions.
The first is to shuttle women back to Earth to have their babies and then bring the children back to Mars to grow up.
The second option is to start genetically engineering our colonists before they leave our planet.
"We should do that now, on Earth, to improve our chances of survival in space," says Szocik. "We did not evolve to live in space. We should do [our] best to modify humans before sending them to space." Of course, engineering a new, hardier race of space colonists brings up some ethical problems (as well as some interesting ideas for sci-fi dystopias). Szocik isn't too concerned—according to him, "Perhaps we should just leave Earthly ethics on Earth."