A life without dignity is possible

Can we adapt to life in space?

Stephen Hawking is known for his dire predictions about the future of mankind. Now he prophesied in the BBC that we have at most 100 years left on earth.

Because we will not be able to solve many problems, according to Hawking, for example climate change, overpopulation, infectious diseases or even possible asteroid impacts.

It won't be easy

But even if we managed to find an alien home, it would not be enough to board the spaceship and simply fly there.

Because people are perfectly adapted to the earth. Space or other planets, on the other hand, are not a natural habitat for us - rather a very hostile one.

But could we possibly adapt to the adverse conditions in space? Here are some - admittedly crazy - evolution ideas:

Bones and muscles

Astronauts at the International Space Station experience this every time they stay: Their bodies expand in weightlessness. They get bigger, but their bones and muscles break down - without intensive training.

Could this perhaps mean that we lose all of our bone substance in space over a long period of time? Could it be that we will become amorphous beings that are optimally adapted to microgravity? After all, the only terrestrial organisms around 3.8 billion years ago - that is, bacteria and archebacteria - also had no bones.

See

A great many astronauts suffer from eye problems that can range from blurred vision to blindness. The researchers are still puzzling why this is. Is it perhaps the increased fluid pressure in the head that affects the optic nerve? So could it be that we will go blind in space in the long term and live there like cave animals in the future?

Listen

What other sense organs could be endangered? What about hearing and sounding? On earth, sound waves are created by vibration and are also reproduced in this way. Outside of a spaceship or spacesuit, however, there is a vacuum. There is nothing that sound waves can travel along. Do we have to hear anything at all in this silence? And what takes the place of the then superfluous senses? Completely different and still completely unknown, which are useful to us in space, but which we do not need on earth?

To breathe

The fact that there is no air in space is of course the biggest problem. Would we have to keep walking around in our new home in spacesuits and clunky helmets? Because without it we would immediately suffocate outside of a spaceship or a space station.

But maybe we could live without oxygen? Anaerobic bacteria made it in the 1.4 billion years before oxygen was created. So could we go back to such a pre-oxygen state?

A nice domicile for a while - but who wants to be locked in here for a lifetime?

Evolutionary biologists versus cosmologists

Of course, we also asked some experts what they think of a relocation into space and the imagined evolutionary adaptations. Ralph Tiedemann, who heads the Department of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Potsdam, agrees with Hawking in principle that humanity is facing "urgent problems". But that does not mean that humanity is threatened with extinction, "in view of their intelligence, ability to learn and adaptability," he wrote to Deutsche Welle in an email.

In any case, it is much more difficult to imagine a life outside the earth than a survival on earth, even after a serious catastrophe. "From the point of view of evolution, the time span of 100 years is far too short to expect large, evolutionary adaptations. The probability that a complex organism like humans could adapt to a completely different world seems to be rather small."

Incidentally, Tiedemann did not go into the above crazy scenarios.

"Life arose on our earth through random mutation and non-random selection", says Axel Mayer, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Konstanz: "The selection pressure in space would be completely different (no oxygen, temperatures, radiation, etc.). People would die instantly, "he writes.

There would be no time to adjust. Meyer has better advice: "Let's try not to ruin our planet. We have no future on another planet. This is our home. This is where we were made and this is where we belong."

The cosmologist J. Richard Gott does not want to be satisfied with that. In an interview with DW he emphasizes that long before Stephen Hawking he pointed out the need to colonize other areas of the universe. His argument: "We live on a tiny planet in the universe. Species that live on an island are becoming extinct." So if we had at least two planets, our chances of survival would increase significantly.

We could start on Mars, says Richard Gott. In any case, there is enough oxygen in the carbon dioxide-containing atmosphere that could be extracted. There is also water, and if you were to settle in caves, you could also protect yourself from radiation.

"People say - Mars is not very habitable and not as suitable as Earth, what do we want there? So if the amphibians had listened to this argument, they would still be in the ocean," says the visionary.

  • Mars mission in Austria

    Amadee-15

    This is the name of the two-week project of the Austrian Space Forum (ÖWF), which has been running on the Kaunertal Glacier in Austria since August 3rd. Carmen Köhler from Berlin and the Spaniard Inigo Munoz Elorza rehearse the trip to Mars as so-called analog astronauts. Because conditions on a glacier are most similar to those on Mars.

  • Mars mission in Austria

    Heavy suit

    The aluminum-coated spacesuit made of fireproof Kevlar weighs 48 kilograms. "Bending down and getting up is difficult," says Carmen Köhler. She is actually a mathematician and meteorologist and acquired a license to wear the suit in a five-month training course.

  • Mars mission in Austria

    Ice and rubble like on Mars

    Because the summer glacier, with its scree and ice masses, is about as impassable as the Red Planet, it is particularly suitable for such an attempt. The researchers call this "ideal conditions". In this way, two Mars rovers can also be tested - vehicles that cannot be braked even by large chunks.

  • Mars mission in Austria

    Rover instead of snowcat

    This remote-controlled vehicle is outwardly similar to the Rover Opportunity currently in use on Mars. He has been serving there for eleven years, alongside the Curiosity, which only landed in 2012. The researchers have it easy on the glacier because their vehicles react immediately to signals. Signals to Mars, on the other hand, take around 20 minutes.

  • Mars mission in Austria

    Woe to you when the toothache comes

    A manned Mars mission would take around three years. A lot can happen there. So the scientists also deal with everyday problems. What to do when, for example, toothache plagues you in space? A 3D printer should then produce the appropriate dentures on site. Otherwise, a healthy diet helps.

  • Mars mission in Austria

    Showers with steam

    A total of around 100 researchers and employees from 19 nations practice various work processes. Twelve experiments are on the program. Including the function test of a steam shower, which requires particularly little liquid. Because so far, personal hygiene in space has been done with damp cloths.

  • Mars mission in Austria

    Gondola instead of space shuttle

    Thanks to the ski lifts, equipment and staff can be comfortably brought up to the glacier by gondola. Travel time: a few minutes. It would take them almost a year to go to Mars for this. And opening the helmet visor during the break will probably no longer be possible.

  • Mars mission in Austria

    There is no snow on Mars

    The researchers only have the summer months for their project. Because soon the Kaunertal Glacier will be covered with snow again. And not even Mars rovers are set up for deep snow slopes.

    Author: Tobias Oelmaier


  • Water on mars

    There is a lake under this ice sheet

    This illustration shows how the ESA Mars Express probe discovered liquid water under an ice sheet - with the help of a special radar sensor. Because it is freezing cold at this point on Mars, the water must be extremely salty. Otherwise it would not be fluid and the radar would not have displayed it.

  • Water on mars

    Rivers!

    US researchers found evidence of liquid water three years ago. In the warmer seasons, water presumably runs down the mountain slopes of Mars, leaving streaks in the rock. These images are from NASA's "Mars Reconnaissance" orbiter.

  • Water on mars

    Be careful, salty!

    The streaks on the mountain slopes are over five meters wide and over a hundred meters long, as here at the Horowitz crater. However, you cannot drink this water. There are extremely many salts dissolved in it, for example magnesium perchlorate. Basically, it is more of a mass of salt with water in it that flows down the mountain.

  • Water on mars

    In summer more than in winter

    Here at the Garni crater, too, such a salt-water mass has apparently only recently flowed down. The salts lower the freezing point of the water so that it remains liquid even at temperatures below zero degrees Celsius. However, the streaks only appear in the Mars summer. In the really cold winter, the water apparently freezes after all.

  • Water on mars

    The view from above

    US scientists have analyzed images and data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The streaks on the mountain slopes had been known for a long time. In 2015, the researchers examined these traces for the first time with a special measuring device and found salts there. Not that easy at all, from a height of 300 km!

  • Water on mars

    A lot of water used to be

    Scientists have long suspected that there is still water on Mars. Large parts of the Red Planet were once covered by water. There was a real ocean there, as this NASA computer simulation shows. Most of the cool water has then evaporated into space.

  • Water on mars

    Looking for water

    Mars rovers like Curiosity are also looking for water on Mars - and thus also for life. Because where there is liquid water, one hopes, life is not far away either. The US researchers suspect, however, that the water on the mountain slopes is too salty for that - at least for the kind of life we ​​know.

  • Water on mars

    Life on mars

    But who knows? Life on Mars probably looks very different anyway than on Earth. We shouldn't expect Hollywood-style aliens. But salt-tolerant microbes are also found on earth - why not on the mountain slopes of Mars? That would be an absolute blast.

    Author: Brigitte Osterath