If humans are to settle on another planet, and Mars seems to be the next best option outside of Earth, they will need to be able to reproduce. In fact, that will be one of the greatest challenges of a permanent colony on the red planet. This is apart from the thin atmosphere, low gravity, and non existent magnetic field on Mars. It will most definitely be a hard place to raise kids.
However, humans will first have to conceive and get pregnant on Mars and that might not be as easy as it is on Earth. This is the focus of a new study titled "Biological and social challenges of human reproduction in a long-term Mars base" which delves into both the scientific, ethical, and sociological aspects of sex, childbirth, and rearing children outside the planet, reports LiveScience.
While the ethical issues that come with childbirth and sex on Mars might seem like a fun thought experiment to have, but it might be a lot more than that. Mars is likely to get a human settlement as early as 2024, if Elon Musk's BFR plans stay on track. If there is to be a human colonisation of the red planet, then there naturally has to also be humans expanding the population through childbirth.
"Reproduction on Mars will be necessary for colony survival and subsequent expansion," a team of researchers from Brazil, the United States and Poland wrote in the new paper. "Unfortunately, such an endeavor comes with titanic challenges."
To understand what these challenges are, one needs to first consider what would happen to a human body on Mars. Firstly, there is the problem of there not being enough air in Mars. The atmosphere there is only one percent as thick as Earth's. That means a lot more cosmic and solar radiation (which SpaceX thinks can be avoided by living underground in Boring tunnels) is going to bombard the surface of the planet. Exposure to that level of radiation, notes the report is most certainly likely to cause brain cell damage and increase the chances of developing various cancers. The report also mentions that radiation could also severely impact sperm count.
Microgravity is another issue that humans will have to contend with on Mars. People will experience one third the gravity they are used to. That translates to less pressure and stresses on the body than normal. While that might seem nice, that is not what the human body was built for and evolved into handling, notes the report. Studies on the human condition in microgravity has proven that astronauts often go through vision loss, dehydration, rapid muscle and bone deterioration, a weakened immune response, as well as reduced heart rates.
Women going through pregnancy already face immunosuppression, notes the report and microgravity could actually exacerbate this situation. "Such a state may aggravate the risks of infection-induced abortions and facilitate the dissemination of diseases among pregnant and non-pregnant individuals," the authors explained.
The next pertinent issue with child rearing on Mars is ethical in nature. The authors feel that new ethical ans social standards need to be created to adjust to this way of living. "The idea to protect life at every stage of development may not be suited to a Mars colony," the authors wrote. "An inhospitable environment and a small mission crew may result in the elevation of the value of group over individual."
This would require a change in the culture promotes colony survival over individuals and this will mean humans in a future Mars colony will need to develop a more liberal view of abortion of non-viable offspring and euthanasia of the terminally ill, say the researchers. Also, not everyone could be allowed to mate. Couples will have to be carefully chosen based on compatibility and this will lead to some couples not being allowed to reproduce because their genetic traits do not favour the survival of the Mars colony.
Before setting up camp on Mars, astronauts wll have to be prepared mentally for such decisions. If people can be convinced to ensure that their actions are bound by their role in preserving the group, they, "may evolve to favour the preservation of personal and physiological traits more suitable to Martian residents," say the researchers.
One other way to do this is by genetically engineering a whole new species of humans that are best suited to live on Mars, notes the report. "The method of CRISPR makes possible adaptive genetic engineering," the authors wrote. "We should consider the idea of genetic human enhancement before and during that mission."
The paper was first published in the journal Futures.