An underground Mars colony and astronaut

Life On Mars Might Require Enhanced Humans, Altering Bodies And Minds To Survive

We really have no idea how life on Mars will actually affect the inhabitants, a new study suggests, and humans might have to undergo physical and mental enhancing in order to survive not only the trip to the Red Planet but also as a colonist. And the reasoning is simple: Mars is not Earth and simulating the conditions wherein colonists will exist with any degree of accuracy is impossible.

Seeker recently reported that Konrad Szocik, a cognitive scientist at the University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland and lead author of the study, contends that knowing what to realistically expect with regard to how voyagers to and colonists on Mars will react to and be affected by the conditions of space travel and actually setting foot on and living on Mars. Simulating such conditions on Earth, even going so far as to attempt gauging the effects of extended time in space (as was done for the Mars preparatory exercise with astronaut Mark Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko’s 340 days in space) and conducting isolation programs and suited walkabouts at Mars-like locations, cannot adequately prepare humans for what they will actually face on a mission to Mars. In fact, simulating it is impossible, Szocik says.

“We can not simulate the same physical and environmental conditions to reconstruct the Martian environment, I mean such traits like Martian microgravitation or radiation exposure,” Szocik said in an e-mail to Seeker. “Consequently, we cannot predict physical and biological effects of humans living on Mars.”

“Consequently, we cannot predict physical and biological effects of humans living on Mars.”

In a report on what might be expected by those living on Mars, Space outlined some of the conditions humans would confront as colonists on the Red Planet. These included planet-wide dust storms that could conceivably endanger life by clogging machinery and filters (especially necessary for life support), temperatures that range from minus 195 F (minus 126 C) in winter near the poles to 68 F (20 C) during summer near the equator (and can change drastically inside of a week), gravity just one-third that of Earth’s (which can lead to drastic degradation of bone density within just a couple years), and harsh radiation from a Sun unblocked by strong magnetic fields or a thick enough atmosphere.

According to research conducted by evolutionary biologist Scott Solomon, humans might quickly adapt, relatively speaking, to the conditions on Mars and even evolve into a new species of human being, their bodies forced into alterations by such things as the decreased gravity and the radiation. The radiation could also contribute to an accelerated rate of evolution for Mars colonists. Even so, the results would be gradual, taking at least thousands of years to manifest.

Mars astronauts around space station
Once humans make it to Mars, colonists will face an array of daunting challenges for survival. [Image by Marc Ward/Shutterstock]

Szocik finds that “an awareness of the one-way journey and all possible dangers” of a Mars mission cannot be simulated on the International Space Station (ISS) or even at remote places like Antarctica, a location often referred to in research on isolated living conditions and being analogous with space missions. The cognitive scientist says that Antarctica and the ISS are fine for training but notes that those individuals in Antarctica do not live in conditions where they are dependent on artificial life support systems. (Left unsaid is the fact that individuals on the ISS and in Antarctica know that they are but hours away from far less harsh or austere living conditions, a psychological support that will be unavailable to those headed to Mars.)

Szocik says that humans might have to undergo electronic enhancement of their senses or perhaps submit to medications that could possibly help ameliorate emotional reactions in moments a crisis.

Unfortunately, such enhancements are the province of the speculative fiction thus far.

Szocik finds himself more worried about a healthy functioning Mars colony, given there has been little research done on the social dynamics associated with a population of colonists on the faraway world.

“A human being is a social animal and he lives in a group,” the scientist told Seeker.

“Group problems affect many challenges and troubles, and we should consider now how we can prevent such typical human problems like conflicts, wars, cheating, etc.”

Mars astronaut walkabout
Mars life will involve will involve living in various artificial environments, including various enclosures that allow mobility on the surface. [Imgae by SergeyDV/Shutterstock]

Szocik has other concerns about future Mars colonists. He worries that a too small colony (less than 500 individuals) might devolve into inbreeding and insists that medical officials will have to look into reducing the mortality rate that will likely come as a result of disease, technological failures, and radiation from Mars’ brutal environment.

Life on Mars, as presented, will deliver to its first human colonists’ many challenges. Those that venture there will ultimately adapt to the trying and artificial conditions, much like humans stationed in harsh areas of Earth (like Antarctica) have adapted and settled into the new environment. Scientists like Konrad Szocik believe that those same Mars colonists, to better their chances of survival, will be outfitted with strategies and tools, including medicines and electronics, that will, in essence, pre-adapt them for the mission.

[Featured Image by Jan Kaliciak/Shutterstock]