Some of the biggest names in science and technology have called for the colonization of Mars, including physicist Stephen Hawking and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. They say that populating other planets would help ensure our species’ survival should Earth be rendered uninhabitable by some disaster.
“The future of humanity is fundamentally going to bifurcate along one of two directions,” Musk said last year. “Either we’re going to become a multiplanet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we’re going to be stuck on one planet until some eventual extinction event.”
That sounds about right. Scientists and engineers are rapidly developing the technology needed for interplanetary travel, and humanity does seem all too vulnerable to existential threats. Think runaway climate change, global pandemics, nuclear war. And don’t forget about asteroid strikes like the one believed to have killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
But the call to put Homo sapiens permanently on Mars seems to sidestep a perverse irony: experts say that a long period of isolation on the red planet — where gravity and sunlight are weaker than on Earth and mutation-causing radiation more intense — could eventually cause the bodies of Mars colonists to change. And at least one expert believes the colonists could evolve into a new species.
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