Bioengineering is faster and cheaper than terraforming

My news aggregator handed me a Slashdot article about terraforming Mars and other planets. One of the points raised was that terraforming, while possible, would be very slow and expensive, taking thousands of years before a stable biosphere was achieved. Perhaps nanotechnology might speed this up a bit but re-engineering a planet, moving its orbit, dragging a moon to it if needed, getting the right moisture and pressure balance, and so on and so on is an incredibly complex task.

Seems much simpler and much faster to re-engineer humans instead:

  • Design them so as thrive in Mars’s low gravity.
  • Design to them to have collapsible lungs like dolphins so as to take a few hours between breaths.
  • Make them symbiotic with tough, oxygen producing plants, perhaps “eating” the plants oxygen.
  • Give them thick, metal scaled hides to resist Mars’ intense ultraviolet radiation.

In the end, just like Ray Bradbury and Fred Pohl said, we will be the Martians, with old Earth as the hostile and alien environment. To colonize space, human is going to have to diversify into new, artificial species.

Or maybe what will happen is the ultimate naturalization process. As space travelers move from world to world, they’ll spend a few days in a vat before planetfall to acclimatize themselves. Nanoscopic robots in these vats will rewrite their bodies atom by atom so that they can thrive on the worlds they visit or colonize. If they return to Earth, they revert back to venerable ol’ homo sapiens.

Science fiction novels have already explored this but, perhaps not as much as they should have. Each time space travelers changed their bodies, this would have profound mental effects. Perhaps some bodies would be more fun to inhabit than others. Or maybe, after the novelty wears off, one body will be as boring as the next. Something weird to think about.

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